Science & Technology

Pentagon's Super Secret Drone Returns To Space, Launched By SpaceX

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| September 8 , 2017 , 09:35 IST

In the highly competitive low Earth orbit where the International Space Station and other military and commercial satellites are set up, there is also a super secret drone sent up by the US Pentagon which resembles a miniature space shuttle. The purpose and function of the X-37B drone have not been disclosed, but it orbits the earth for months and years at a time.

The X-37B has a wingspan of less than 15 feet and weighs only 11,000 pounds (4,989.5 kg) but has successfully completed 6 flights, spending a total of 6 years in space. Its latest mission is expected to last 270 days, but in a statement, the Air Force said "the actual duration depends on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance, and conditions at the landing facility."

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Describing the objectives of the X-36B, the Air Force said "the primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth," adding that the mission is to "demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies." The service also said it would test experimental electronics in a weightless environment.

The latest launch on Thursday morning at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was conducted by Elon Musk's company 'SpaceX' for the first time, breaking the monopoly United Launch Alliance had on Pentagon launches. SpaceX had filed a suit against the US Air Force for the right to compete in the national security launch market and in 2015 SpaceX won, opening up a competitive market for the Pentagon.

The secret drone comes in the wake of Pentagon sounding the alarm about the importance of defence in outer space, as Russia and China erode the benefit that the US held in space for years. Recently, the House has even suggested the creation of a separate "Space Corps" within the Air Force that would focus solely on fights in space.