SpaceX back for another try at Falcon Heavy launch of secret spacecraft – Orlando Sentinel

SpaceX and the Space Force are gearing up for another attempt to launch the powerful Falcon Heavy rocket on Thursday night. This launch will be carrying the secretive X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, and if successful, SpaceX plans to follow up with a Falcon 9 launch just a few hours later. The Falcon Heavy will be flying for only the ninth time ever, but it will be the fifth time this year alone. The liftoff is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-A, with a backup opportunity the following day at 8:06 p.m.

The weather conditions are looking favorable, with an 80% chance of good conditions and a 95% chance in the event of a 24-hour delay. The two side boosters, which have flown four times already, will attempt a recovery landing at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The sonic booms produced by their return will be heard along the Space Coast and possibly even deeper into Central Florida.

This launch comes after a delay of more than two weeks due to poor weather and a ground issue reported by SpaceX. It is the third time Falcon Heavy will be flying for the Space Force, but the first time the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, developed by Boeing, will be on board. The X-37B has previously flown on United Launch Alliance Atlas V and SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, but the Falcon Heavy will provide a more powerful ride.

The X-37B’s missions have all been classified, and each mission has lasted for longer durations. On its sixth trip, it spent nearly 909 days in space. The spacecraft has traveled over 1.3 billion miles to date. Sometimes, the X-37B carries experiments from partner agencies, such as NASA, to study the effects of long-duration spaceflight on plant seeds and exposure to harsh radiation.

The latest version of the X-37B features a service module that allows for hosted experiments. It has carried various experiments and satellites developed by different organizations. The X-37B program has been successful in streamlining processes and adapting evolving technologies, contributing to our understanding of operating and returning from a space environment.

As for Falcon Heavy, it is settling into a mix of commercial and military launches, with its first-ever launch for NASA earlier this year. The rocket first flew in 2018, sending Elon Musk’s Tesla on a journey beyond Mars. After a three-year break, it began launching regularly, including missions for the Space Force.

The Space Force’s Assured Access to Space program has been working diligently to prepare for this launch, ensuring that our nation’s launch capabilities remain responsive to national security needs. The Space Coast has been bustling with activity, with rockets on the pad at three launch sites. SpaceX and ULA have been actively launching missions, with SpaceX responsible for the majority of launches this year.

If all goes according to plan, this launch will mark the 71st launch of the year on the Space Coast. Following this, SpaceX has another Starlink mission scheduled, potentially setting a record for the shortest time between launches from the Space Coast pads. SpaceX continues to push the boundaries of spaceflight, furthering our exploration and understanding of the cosmos.

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