SpaceX squeaks in another launch and land ahead of Hurricane Irma

A Falcon 9 carrying X-37B beneath its protective shroud minutes before its Sept. 7 liftoff from Kennedy Space Center Florida. Credit SpaceX video

The company's focus will likely immediately switch to preparing the company's many Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center facilities for Hurricane Irma, expected to make landfall on the East coast of Florida sometime late Saturday or early Sunday.

The launch has received unexpected traction both because of the secretive mission and because of the timing of the launch despite Hurricane Irma warning.

This will be the first time that SpaceX will be using its Falcon 9 rocket to launch a ship for the Air Force.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno disputes that ULA was even afforded the opportunity to participate in the bidding process, however.

The spaceflight will be the fifth trip into orbit for the Boeing-built X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) which conducts secret research and orbital missions for the Air Force.

Hurricane Katia likely to intensify by landfall in Mexico: NHC
As for the three storms now occupying the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, all three are expected to take very different paths. Tropical Storm Jose continues to strengthen gradually and is now expected to become a hurricane by Wednesday night.

Military officials said launching the OTV-5 mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket would add to the program's flexibility, demonstrating the X-37B can fly on two different types of boosters.

This mission marks the 16th successful landing of Falcon 9 post-launch and seventh successful landing on solid ground.

This will be the fifth launch of the X-37B. Last time it flew, the space plane was in orbit for almost two years, breaking the record for a reusable spacecraft in space. Given the top-secret nature of the X-37B's [spying] mission, there's little that we know about its orbit or what it could possibly be carrying aboard.

The X-37B, which looks somewhat like a miniature version of the retired Space Shuttle, has a wingspan of just under 15 feet and weighs around 11,000 pounds. Additionally the space magazine reported that some aerospace experts believe the Air Force is testing small satellites that could be cheaper than current technologies. The fourth flight was launched in May 2015 by United Launch Alliance, a SpaceX rival that is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The last mission, which ended in May, spent a record-breaking 718 days in space.

Today's launch is going to be the last for a while from the Kennedy Space Center.

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