Hurricane Irma couldn’t keep SpaceX’s Falcon 9 — or the rocket’s secretive military payload — on the ground.
Liftoff of the military’s new X-37B spaceplane, or Orbital Test Vehicle, came at 10 a.m. EDT Sept. 7 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It had been feared the ferocious storm might play havoc with launch-time weather, but Irma remained far enough off coast to keep Cape conditions calm.
It was the OTV program’s fifth mission. The Boeing-built spaceplane was launched on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V in previous missions.
The Falcon 9’s reusable first stage was returned to a landing pad at Cape Canaveral about eight minutes after liftoff. It was SpaceX’s 16th recovered booster.
SpaceX won certification for launching military payloads in 2015.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company had initially scheduled its first OTV mission for August before repositioning it on its flight manifest.
During its missions, the X-37B is boosted into space by a launch vehicle. It then re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and lands horizontally.
Most broadly, the missions aim to demonstrate reusable space technologies. The latest mission reportedly featured an experiment involving oscillating heat pipe measurements, with a number of miniature satellites believed also to be hitching a ride on the spaceplane.