SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Successfully Launches X-37B Amid U.S.-Sino Space Rivalry

Summary

  • The Falcon Heavy launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
  • This spectacular nighttime liftoff was carried live on a SpaceX webcast.
  • The Pentagon has kept details of the X-37B mission under wraps. The vehicle is orchestrated by the U.S. Space Force as part of the National Security Space Launch program.
  • The X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, will likely test “new orbital regimes.”
  • China launches its own robot spaceplane, Shenlong, or “Divine Dragon,” setting up a U.S.-Sino rivalry in space.

The Falcon Heavy Launch

Joey Roulette and Steve Gorman reported on the much-anticipated launch of the Falcon Heavy. This rocket, comprising three liquid-fueled cores, surprised night watchers as it soared into the sky from the Kennedy Space Center at Canaveral’s Cape. The event was broadcast live on a SpaceX webcast.

The launch followed a fortnight of false starts and postponements due to poor weather conditions and technical problems. This triggered ground crew to revert the spacecraft back to its hangar before commencing Thursday’s flight.

China’s Shenlong and Space Race

Two weeks prior, China launched its own robot spaceplane, Shenlong, or “Divine Dragon.” This is the third launch into orbit since 2020 and has sparked increasing competition with the U.S. in the space arena.

The specifics of the X-37B mission, led by the U.S. Space Force under the military’s National Security Space Launch program, remain confidential. The Boeing-made vehicle, slightly larger than a small bus, is designed to deploy a variety of payloads and carry out technology experiments on extended orbital flights. Similar to an airplane, it descends back through the atmosphere onto a runway at the end of its mission.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Launch

This achievements is especially important because the Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX’s most powerful vehicle, successfully launched its first mission. This rocket has the capability of carrying payloads even heavier than the X-37B farther into space.

Implications of X-37B and Plant Growth in Space

The X-37B is also conducting a NASA experiment. The experiment underway involves studying how plant seeds are impacted by long-term exposure to the hostile radiation environment in space. This could pave the way for sustainable crop cultivation in space, which would be critical to sustaining astronauts on lengthy missions to the moon and Mars.

However, in contrast to the Falcon Heavy, Shenlong was launched with the less powerful Long March 2F rocket. Despite this, Space Force General B. Chance Saltzman anticipates China to launch Shenlong concurrently with the X-37B flight.

The current X-37B mission duration remains confidential. However, looking at prior X-37B mission patterns of successively longer flights, one might foresee this mission extending until June 2026 or beyond.

The implications of these space missions can potentially extend to the financial market, affecting investment in space-related stocks, such as Boeing (NYSE:) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:), and trading on NYSE:SPCE, or the price of SpaceX’s IPO, if it were to occur.

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