|June 7, 2017
SpaceX, the upstart rocket maker that went to court for the right to bid on US national security launches and flew its first classified spy satellite to orbit in May, will launch the top-secret X-37B space drone in August, according to US Air Force secretary Heather Wilson. (The news was first reported by Reuters.)
The four previous launches of the X-37B have been performed by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, on Atlas V rockets. ULA, which held a monopoly on US government rocket launches between 2006 and 2016, was expected to continue flying those missions, so the news comes as a surprise.
The autonomous craft, which looks quite a bit like the Space Shuttle orbiter but is only about a quarter its size, has attracted attention for its ultra-long stays in space—its last flight lasted 718 days, a record in orbit for a reusable spacecraft. But little is known about what it’s doing up there.