For the second time this month, SpaceX is preparing to launch the X-37B military space plane on its Falcon Heavy rocket. The USSF-52 mission liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center is set for Thursday at 8:07 p.m. EST (0107 UTC) at the start of a ten-minute launch window.
The launch was attempted after SpaceX and the US Space Force Delayed work Since December 11 due to „a ground side problem”. The Falcon Heavy returned to its hangar on December 14, with SpaceX not saying the vehicle was 'healthy' in its social media posts.
SpaceX has not detailed the reason or reasons for the delay, but multiple sources now tell Spaceflight that at least one engine on the Falcon Heavy rocket will need to be replaced. A second static fire test was deemed unnecessary, allowing SpaceX to embark on another launch attempt before the end of the year and rescheduling the mission to December 28.
The three-core rocket carries the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). It was the seventh launch in the program's history since 2010 and the fourth flight of Vehicle 2, the second of two craft in the OTV fleet.
SpaceFlight Now will be broadcast live from Kennedy Space Center approximately 1.5 hours prior to launch.
The Falcon Heavy rocket for the mission returned to its pad at Launch Complex 39A on Wednesday morning. This will mark the second time that SpaceX will launch the X-37B after riding on the Falcon 9 on its fifth OTV mission in September 2017.
All other previous missions had launched United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 501 rocket from neighboring Pad 41.
More information about the X-37B and its importance to both SpaceX and the US Space Force can be found here. Here.
Approximately 8.5 minutes later, two Falcon Heavy side boosters, tail numbers B1064 and B1065, will return to Landing Zones 1 and 2 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Onlookers of the launch may hear a pair of sonic booms as it re-enters the atmosphere.
These boosters make their fifth flight to date after previously launching the USSF-44, USSF-67, Jupiter-3 and Psyche missions. They will launch again in October 2024 to launch NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft to the Jovian moon of the same name.
Sowing the seeds of progress
While payloads on spaceflight are often undisclosed, the mission will be another opportunity for NASA to learn about the implications of long-duration spaceflight for humans.
No astronauts will be on board, but NASA is sending a sequel Rod-seed 1 and RAD-SEED 2 experiments.
„For this mission, we will send a new variety of seeds, mainly for leafy greens,” a NASA spokesperson said in a statement. „We are sending different varieties of the same type of seed, aiming to assess the differences between these varieties in response to the space environment.”
New varieties of seeds include Cauliflower, Amara, Scarlet Frill and Garnet Giant. They send two varieties of each of the following: radishes, bak choy, peppers, and brachypodium.
Along with eight species of Arabidopsis, here are the other seeds present in X-37B:
- Swiss Chart