SpaceX has said it has set December 28 for the launch of the United States military’s X-37B robot space plane on its seventh mission to orbit.
“Now targeting no earlier than Thursday, December 28 for the Falcon Heavy to launch USSF-52 to orbit from Florida,” SpaceX said in a post on X on Friday, after it delayed the launch earlier this week to perform extra system checks.
The X-37B has flown six previous missions since 2010, its last flight taking well over two years before the vehicle’s return landing in November 2022.
The Pentagon has not disclosed what altitude it plans to place the space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, with the coming launch.
The X-37B also was carrying a NASA experiment to study how plant seeds are affected by long-term exposure to the harsh environment of radiation in space.
The military has not said how long the spaceplane’s latest mission would last, though it likely will remain in orbit until June 2026 or later if it follows its prevailing trend of successively longer flights.
Space Force General B Chance Saltzman, now head of space operations, suggested in 2020 that the X-37B may be nearing its final mission, according to the authoritative aerospace journal Air & Space Forces.
Saltzman was reported by the monthly magazine as saying at that time that the spacecraft might exemplify “technology that has served its purpose and (maybe) it’s time to start looking at the next available capability”.
The X-37B flight will mark the third time it is used by the US government to take a national security payload into orbit.