Editor's note: Bad weather has delayed ULA's Atlas V launch for the X-37B space plane. Next launch attempt is Sunday, May 17, at 9:14 a.m. EDT (1314 GMT). Watch live here.
The Space Force will launch a robotic X-37B space plane on a new secret mission for the U.S. military today (May 16) and you can watch it live online.
Weather permitting, the X-37B space plane will lift off atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to begin its hush-hush mission in Earth orbit. Liftoff is now set for 10:13 a.m. EDT (1413 GMT) after bad weather prevented a launch try earlier in the day.
You can watch the X-37B launch live here (opens in new tab) and on Space.com's homepage beginning at about 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT).
You can also watch the launch here directly from the United Launch Alliance (opens in new tab), which built the Atlas V rocket for this mission. ULA will begin posting live updates on launch preparations at 1 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT) before the actual launch. Weather is a key concern, with Air Force officials forecasting just a 40% chance of good conditions for launch.
For those who serve
"Our invincible American spirit drives us to motivate, collaborate, and innovate together to overcome adversity," Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said in a statement (opens in new tab). "In dedicating this mission to the nation's healthcare workers, first responders, and essential personnel, the Department celebrates those who are keeping America Strong."
"America Strong" is the tagline for this mission, with Space Force and ULA emblazoning it on the side of the Atlas V rocket along with the message: "In memory of COVID-19 victims and tribute to all first responders and front-line workers."
ULA, in partnership with the @SpaceForceDoD and @usairforce, is dedicating the #USSF7 launch to all those affected by #COVID19. A written dedication is affixed to the #AtlasV rocket’s payload fairing #AmericaStrong pic.twitter.com/6VVTHH0R3vMay 15, 2020
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus, which has infected 4.5 million people around the world, 1.4 million of them in the United States. At least 87,427 have died from the disease (opens in new tab) in the U.S as of today.
"The U.S. Space Force and United Launch Alliance salute each American serving on the frontlines in our fight against COVID-19," Space Force Chief Gen John Raymond of the U.S. Space Command said in the same statement. "We are proud to dedicate the upcoming launch of USSF-7 to showcase American resolve and national unity during these challenging times."
X-37B's return to space
The upcoming launch will mark the sixth flight of an X-37B space plane (also known as an Orbital Test Vehicle), giving it the designation OTV-6.
The U.S. Air Force and Space Force have two reusable X-37B space planes, both built by Boeing, for classified missions in low-Earth orbit that can last years (opens in new tab). The robotic spacecraft resemble miniature versions of NASA's space shuttles and are powered by a solar array. The first X-37B mission launched in April 2010.
Some details are available about the upcoming OTV_6 mission. The flight will carry two NASA experiments to study space radiation and the effects of space exposure on materials and seeds for food, Space Force officials have said.
The spacecraft will also deploy the small FalconSat-8 satellite built by the U.S. Air Force Academy and carry a novel power-beaming experiment (opens in new tab) built by the Naval Research Laboratory to demonstrate technology to "transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy which could then be transmitted to the ground," according to a mission description (opens in new tab).
Editor's note: Visit Space.com Saturday, May 16, for live coverage of the X-37B OTV-6 launch, beginning at 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT).
- US Air Force's secretive X-37B space plane (infographic)
- In photos: SpaceX launches X-37B space plane, lands Falcon 9 rocket
- Gallery: Declassified US spy satellite photos & designs
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