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SpaceX squeaks in another launch and land ahead of Hurricane Irma

SpaceX squeaks in another launch and land ahead of Hurricane Irma

Falcon 9 rocket is on a mission to launch the U.S. Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) on its fifth mission.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket first stage stands atop Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida after launching the us military's X-37B space plane on its fifth classified mission for the Air Force.

Officials said it was likely the last chance for the Falcon 9 rocket to take off before ground crews would need to secure the vehicle for Hurricane Irma, a powerful Category 5 storm forecast to pass over or near Cape Canaveral as soon as Sunday.

This is just the second time SpaceX has launched a national security payload and the first time launching the Boeing-built X-37B.

The X-37B is the first uncrewed space plane for the USA, and is designed for reusability at a reasonable cost.

While X-37B's mission has been tentatively scheduled to last 270 days, the Air Force has said that could change depending on the testing progress, how the vehicle performs in orbit and conditions at the landing facility.

Both spacecraft have spent a combined 2,085 days in space. Other than that, we don't know what the X-37B will be up to, or for how long.

Exactly what the X-37B did during those four missions, or what it will do during the newly launched OTV-5, is a mystery; most X-37B payloads and activities are classified. This makes it the only launch provider to accomplish this besides the United Launch Alliance, and should help ensure SpaceX gets more business from U.S, defense contracts in future. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans.

The flight is the fifth time one of the Air Force's two X-37B spaceplanes, each about one-quarter the length of one of NASA's retired space shuttle orbiters, has rocketed into space.

SpaceX launches have become something of a routine over the past year or so, but if you think there's nothing interesting about yet another launch being carried out by Elon Musk's stellar startup, you're dead wrong.

But this week's rocket launch is not what an ordinary SpaceX launch looks like.

As usual, SpaceX aims to land its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral for eventual reuse.

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