The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise team, and its mission partners, successfully launched the USSF-7 mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for the Department of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 501 launch vehicle May 17, 2020, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The 9:14 a.m., EDT, marks the 80th successful mission in a row for the National Security Space Launch program. This launch continues the Department of Defense’s America Strong initiative, recognizing healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential personnel on the COVID-19 frontlines.
Boeing is the prime contractor for the X-37B spaceplane and facilitates the integration of all experiments into the vehicle ensuring they receive the correct power, thermal and data services required. Boeing also works to identify future reusable platform experiment opportunities on each mission.
The X-37B’s latest mission is the first to use a service module with additional payload capability to support a variety of experiments for multiple government partners. The mission will deploy FalconSAT-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, to conduct experiments on orbit. Further, two NASA experiments will study the impact of radiation and other space effects on certain materials and seeds used to grow food. Another experiment by the Naval Research Laboratory will transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy which could then be transmitted to the ground. In addition, the mission will test reusable space vehicle technologies.
“The National Security Space Launch program leverages commercial launch services to deliver the Nation’s most critical space capabilities safely to orbit,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise. “Executing this important mission during an incredibly difficult time for the Nation and the world demonstrates the tenacity of the dedicated government and contractor professionals who worked tirelessly in new and innovative ways to safely achieve 100 percent mission success.”
“Congratulations to the USSF-7 integrated team on a successful launch,” said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Air Force program executive officer for Space. “Launching USSF-7 is just the latest example of the big things the Department of Defense continues to accomplish every day in defense of our nation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
The X-37B first launched in April 2010. Originally designed for missions of 270 days duration, the X-37B has set endurance records during each of its five previous flights. Most recently, X-37B spent 780 days on orbit before returning to Earth in October 2019.
“The X-37B has shifted the paradigm and redefined efficiency in space development, said Jim Chilton, Boeing Space and Launch senior vice president. “The rapid technology advancements enabled by the program will benefit the entire space community and influence the next generation of spacecraft design.”
The Space Force’s USSF-7 launch is one of many achievements the Space and Missile Systems Center plans to accomplish this year. SMC’s Launch Enterprise team intends to successfully and responsibly launch seven additional National Security Space missions throughout 2020.
The X-37B program is a partnership between the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the United States Space Force. Boeing program management, engineering, test and mission support functions for the Orbital Test Vehicle program are conducted at Boeing sites in Southern California and Florida.
The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the U.S. Space Force’s center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. SMC’s portfolio includes space launch, global positioning, military space vehicle communications, defense meteorological space vehicles, range systems, space vehicle control networks, space-based infrared systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.