The US Space Force’s enigmatic X-37B autonomous drone will purportedly be used to scan the skies for threats sent by satellites of unfriendly countries, and its next mission is likely to take it to even greater heights in space.
In response to a delay caused by inclement weather, Elon Musk’s SpaceX—which received the 130 million-dollar deal to launch the spacecraft—announced that it would launch its 7th mission to orbit on December 28. The crew will put that time to use by doing more pre-launch inspections.
The Falcon Heavy is more powerful than the rockets that have launched unmanned aerial vehicles in the past. The aircraft’s mission would be in a higher orbit than prior flights.
The military has said that conducting trials using future space domain awareness capabilities is one of the many space tests the unmanned drone is anticipated to undertake.
According to experts, that might mean that the X-37B will be examining areas beyond the sky for possible dangers, such as satellites deployed by hostile countries.
According to the Space Force, the mission is also intended to test the effects of radiation on plant seeds during long-duration space travel, which is something NASA is interested in.
A compact solar panel that converts sunlight into microwaves—a technology that might one day enable energy to be sent down to Earth from space—was one of the new technologies tested by the Pentagon using X-37Bs in the past.
The X-37B program is secret and operated by the Space Force. It is unclear why the ship, which can survive in space for several months, would need to go deeper into space. The program’s funding is also unknown.
China, meanwhile, continues to view American usage of these strange spacecraft with suspicion, accusing the government of attempting to weaponize space. So far, the Shenlong, China’s clandestine reusable spaceplane, has completed two missions.
Suspiciously, no images of the Shenlong were ever made public but reports claim that the final one descended in May after 276 days in orbit.
The X-37Bs have spent over a decade in space, which the military claims has given them insight into how various items fare in space for long periods.