The U.S. military’s mystery space plane rocketed into orbit again Sunday. It’s the sixth flight of an X-37B—a solar-powered plane flown by remote control with no crew. This time, the hush-hush spacecraft carried an extra load of science experiments. But exactly what those will be used for is top secret.
Officials are keeping fairly quiet about the spaceship. They aren’t saying how long the plane will remain in orbit. They’re not revealing the purpose of the mission either.
Keeping secrets is sometimes necessary—for example, when not doing so could cause key information to fall into the wrong hands. In a world where governments and companies keep many secrets—some helpful and some harmful—it’s a comfort to know that God knows and examines the very thoughts and plans of everyone on Earth. (Proverbs 5:21)
Since 2010, the secretive space planes have logged a combined 2,867 days in orbit. Jim Chilton, a senior vice president for X-37B developer (Boeing), notes that each mission has lasted longer than the one before.
“If you add up all the missions, [it’s] just under eight years in orbit and one billion miles, so a lot of traveling by this machine,” Chilton says.
The mission before this latest flight lasted a record two years. That plane’s touchdown happened under cover of darkness at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last fall. (See “Air Force Mystery Plane.”)
The winged X-37B resembles NASA’s old shuttles. But at just 29 feet long, the body is one-quarter the size. The plane launched Sunday features an extra compartment for experiments, including several for NASA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. It marks the biggest science load yet for an X-37B.
This sixth rocket launch also makes just the second for the newly established Space Force. (For more on Space Force, read “Bold New Space Force Logo—Or Not?”)
Sunday’s launch was dedicated to healthcare workers and others on the front lines of the global pandemic.
After Sunday, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had a fast turnaround. Before dawn yesterday, SpaceX launched another batch of satellites for global internet service. The launch marks SpaceX’s last flight before its first astronaut launch, scheduled for May 27 from next-door Kennedy Space Center.
(A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. AP Photo/John Raoux)