Experimental USAF space plane X-37B was delivered today by the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket to Low Earth Orbit. It was first launch of X-37B by Falcon-9 rocket in the history.
The 41st launch of Falcon-9 rocket was unique and clearly shows intentions of SpaceX for following years – getting into military contracts. Boeing X-37B, experimental robotic space plane, always launch on the top of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V today was delivered to LEO on the top of the Falcon-9 for the first time. This was 13th mission of Falcon-9 in 2017 combined with 20th successful landing of the rocket’s booster in the history of SpaceX, seventh performed on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.
Rocket was rolled out to LC-39A at kennedy Space Center last week on Thursday for test fire and later it was again hidden inside hangar. Finally rocket was rolled out yesterday with X-37B encapsulated and elevated to vertical position today at 05:49 UTC. launch was planned for 14:00 UTC.
Fueling process begun at 13:25 UTC and it was performed without any problems. At T-7 minutes prevalves were opened and started chilling engines with LOX form tanks. Two minutes later rocket was switched to internal power. Punctually at 14:00 UTC lifted off from LC-39A launch site. At T+1′ rocket as usual passed through sound barrier and reached point of maximum dynamic pressure in flight. At T+2’20” first stage was cut off and second stage Merlin-1D engine was fired and begun its mission. Booster deployed titanium grid fins and begun its flip maneuver to set itself in correct position for landing attempt. At T+6′ flip maneuver was finished and three from nine Merlin-1D engines were fired for 15 seconds to reduce speed after another 34 seconds. Upper stage with classified payload was continuing flight, but SpaceX stopped live broadcast for this phase of its flight. After Entry burn central engine ignited to reduce speed and stabilize flight before landing and deployed landing legs and touched LZ-1 pad at T+8’18”.
Deployment of X-37B was not yet officially confirmed by SpaceX nor by USAF.