The Boeing X-37B autonomous spaceplane was launched on its sixth mission on 17 May, atop a uniquely-configured ATLAS V rocket built by the United Launch Alliance (ULA).
The mission – the second on behalf of the US Space Force – is the first to use a service module with additional payload capability to support a variety of experiments for multiple government partners. The X-37B will deploy FalconSAT-8, a small satellite developed by the USAF Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, to conduct experiments on orbit. In addition, two NASA experiments will study the impact of radiation and other space effects on certain materials and seeds. Another experiment by the Naval Research Laboratory will transform solar power into RF microwave energy which could then be transmitted to the ground. In addition, the mission will test reusable space vehicle technologies.
Boeing acts as prime contractor for the X-37B spaceplane, facilitating integration of all experiments and ensuring they receive the correct power, thermal and data services required. The company also works to identify future reusable platform experiment opportunities on each mission.
Originally designed for missions of 270 days duration, the X-37B has set endurance records on each of its five flights since the first launch in April 2010, most recently spending 780 days on orbit before returning to Earth last October. The X-37B programme is a partnership between the USAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office and the United States Space Force.
“The X-37B has shifted the paradigm and redefined efficiency in space development […] The rapid technology advancements enabled by the program will benefit the entire space community and influence the next generation of spacecraft design,” commented Jim Chilton, SVP Boeing Space and Launch.