SpaceX to launch Air Force's secretive X-37B spaceplane

KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft commander and pilot Maj. Joe left and co-pilot 1st Lt. Scott fly the aircraft and maintain radio communications throughout their refueling mission

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The first mission saw the plane stay in orbit for 224 days.

As expected, pad 39A came through the CRS-11 launch in near pristine condition, with no major issues noted via the pad shakedown report. The third mission lasted 674 days.

Toward the end of her testimony, Sec. Walden said the decision to use a SpaceX vehicle opens up new opportunities for "flexible and responsive launch". During the spacecraft's fourth and most recent mission, it orbited the planet for 718 days before landing on a runway used by the Space Shuttle program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last month.

"The ability to launch the Orbital Test Vehicle on multiple platforms will ensure a robust launch capability for our experiment designers", said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

In a statement released after Sec.

Like the previous launches, the August mission will start at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. SpaceX did not provide a comment on the news.

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Back in 2014, SpaceX's Elon Musk essentially accused ULA of bribing the Air Force to get an exclusive deal to launch 36 missions. "SpaceX will be sending the next Air Force payload up into space in August", said Wilson according to Reuters. Launch contracts are usually announced about two years before a flight.

While SpaceX's manifest is certainly packed, the ability to adjust the manifest and shuffle flights around is crucial to an industry that often experiences both provider and customer delays in the final weeks of a launch campaign. This will be the fifth trip the reusable drone makes into space, and its objective - beyond conducting various spy missions - remains a mystery.

"The X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies", according to an Air Force statement.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told that the 165 figure reflects the total number of bombers and not just B-21s.

The mission was confirmed Tuesday at a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee.

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