SpaceX launches a secret US military spacecraft on a research mission

SpaceX launches a secret US military spacecraft on a research mission

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket blasted into space Thursday evening to carry the US Army's secretive X-37B drone to a research mission.

After weeks of delay, the rocket lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:07 p.m. ET (0107 GMT Friday) in a launch broadcast live on SpaceX's website.

It is unclear where the unmanned, autonomously operating spacecraft is headed on its seventh mission.

The Pentagon has released little information about the space drone and its mission, which was scheduled for December 7, and SpaceX only mentioned the Pentagon mission's codename — USSF-52 — in its statement about the launch.

“Falcon Heavy launched the USSF-52 mission into orbit from Launch Complex 39A,” SpaceX said.

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Earlier, the Pentagon said that the seventh mission of the X-37B would require “multiple, sophisticated experiments.”

“These tests include operating the reusable spaceplane in new orbital systems, experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies, and investigating the effects of radiation on materials provided by NASA,” the US Air Department's Office of Rapid Capabilities said in a statement last month.

She added that this is the first time that the X-37B aircraft has been launched on board a Falcon Heavy rocket, which is one of the most powerful operational rockets capable of carrying payloads of up to 26,700 kilograms (58,900 pounds) deep into space.

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The US space drone, the

The Falcon Heavy launch comes two weeks after China sent its secret robotic space plane, called Xinlong, into orbit for what China's official Xinhua news agency said would be a “period of time.”

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“During this period, reusable technology verification and space science experiments will be conducted as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space,” Xinhua said after the launch on December 14.

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In service since 2010, the Air Force's X-37B orbital test vehicle was designed by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

It is 30 feet (nine meters) long, has a 15-foot wingspan, and is powered by solar panels.

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