SpaceX Successfully Launches Air Force Mission From Florida

SpaceX preparing for launch of mini spy space shuttle for US Air Force despite Hurricane Irma warning

Stage one of the Falcon 9 rocket landed successfully just eight minutes after launch, touching down at SpaceX's landing port located off the Florida coast, but the live feed cut out after lift-off due to the classified nature of the X-37B 'spaceplane'.

The two-stage rocket took off at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) from Launch Complex 39A at the USA space agency NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket first stage stands atop Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida after launching the USA military's X-37B space plane on its fifth classified mission for the Air Force.

What's also unclear how long the X-37B will remain in orbit. Given the top-secret nature of the X-37B's [spying] mission, there's little that we know about its orbit or what it could possibly be carrying aboard.

The Air Force has not disclosed many details about the space craft other than to say it's designed for "low Earth orbit altitudes where it can perform long duration space technology experimentation and testing".

The secretive program is based in two former space shuttle hangars near the Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC, allowing both spacecraft to land at the nearby Shuttle Landing Facility.

The payload's mission is classified, but it's a robotic space plan that looks like a mini space shuttle. And a heat sink like that could be useful on a high-end spy satellite.

The X-37B is the first uncrewed space plane for the US, and is designed for reusability at a reasonable cost.

Here is a listing of the X-37B's flight history compiled by Spaceflight Now's Justin Ray. That launch, which will employ ULA's most-powerful variant of its Atlas 5 rocket, would have required SpaceX to have used its Falcon Heavy, which is still months from its debut. DARPA transferred it to the Air Force in 2006.

A communications satellite for SES and EchoStar is scheduled to fly into geostationary orbit no earlier than October 2 from pad 39A aboard a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster.

SpaceX launches have become something of a routine over the past year or so, but if you think there's nothing interesting about yet another launch being carried out by Elon Musk's stellar startup, you're dead wrong.

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