CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – The U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B ‘mini-shuttle’ will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in August, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
The announcement comes as a major win in the aerospace defense industry for SpaceX because all prior launches of X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) were aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.
The August 2017 launch will be the fifth mission (OTV-5) of the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane.
In 2014, Boeing began consolidation of its X-37B operations at Kennedy Space Center by converting the former space shuttle facility, OPF-1, to a facility that would enable the U.S. Air Force to land, recover, refurbish, and re-launch the reusable unmanned space plane.
Prior to consolidation, the 29-foot-long X-37B had launched from both Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida – but the space plane only landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The fourth mission (OTV-4) was the first X-37B to land at Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 2017.