KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — After scrubbing USSF-52 mission a number of times, SpaceX will try again to launch a Boeing space plane a few days after Christmas.

What You Need To Know

  • The USSF-52 mission now set no earlier than Thursday, Dec. 28

  • The Falcon Heavy rocket will take off from Launch Complex 39A

  • The USSF-52 mission will launch a Boeing space plane

  • The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is an unmanned vehicle

  • Get more space coverage here  ▶

SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket is expected to take off no earlier than Thursday, Dec. 28, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, the company confirmed.

The four-hour launch window opens at 7 p.m. ET but if SpaceX is forced to push back the mission, its next chance is Friday, Dec. 29, at the same time.

Failed launch attempts series

This mission — in partnership with Space Systems Command — was supposed to be launched a couple of times.

Sunday, Dec. 10: The launch was set for Sunday at 8:14 p.m. ET, but it was pushed back to the following day because the weather conditions were supposed to be better.

Monday, Dec. 11: This second attempt had a 10-minute launch window set for 8:14 p.m. ET, but SpaceX pushed it back to 8:24 p.m. ET before scrubbing the flight entirely. A “ground side issue” came up and SpaceX was forced to stand down.

Tuesday, Dec. 12: This third attempt was scrubbed the night before because SpaceX wanted “to perform additional system checkouts”.

SpaceX had hoped for a double launch with this mission and a Starlink mission a few times, but it was not meant to be. 

Going up

The Falcon Heavy has three Falcon 9 boosters. After the stage separation, the two side boosters are expected to land SpaceX’s landing zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station as sonic booms are expected to be heard.

The Falcon Heavy’s core booster B1084 (the center booster) is going to be jettisoned into the Atlantic Ocean. This will be its first mission.

The two side boosters, B1064 and B1065, already have four successful missions on their resume:

  1. USSF-44 mission
  2. USSF-67 mission
  3. JUPITER 3
  4. Psyche mission

About the mission

The USSF-52 will send up the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a seventh mission for the Boeing-made space plane.

Onboard the unmanned space plane, also known as OTV-7, will be a series of top secret experiments, with the U.S. Space Force only stating the craft will be doing such tests as “operating in new orbital regimes, experimenting with space domain awareness technologies and investigating the radiation effects to NASA materials.”

“We’re nearly complete with the pre-launch work for our next National Security Space launch, which is the third Falcon Heavy used to launch a national security payload,” stated Brig. Gen. Kristin Panzenhagen, program executive officer for Assured Access to Space and Commander, Space Launch Delta 45, in a Space Systems Command (SSC) press release.

Neither the SSC nor the U.S. Space Force stated how long the X-37B will be in orbit for the USSF-52 mission, but in November 2022 when it came in for its landing of its last mission, it spent 908 days in orbit.

When the X-37B does eventually return to Earth, people can expect to hear a sonic boom.

About the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

One-fourth the size of the space shuttle, this Boeing-made craft is designed to operate in low-earth orbit, which is about 150 to 500 miles above the round Earth, described Boeing.

While not stating exactly what the X-37B is made of, Boeing stated the space plane was built using a lighter-composite structure than aluminum.

“USSF-52 is carrying the seventh mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, which is an experimental test program that demonstrates technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Space Force,” stated the SSC.

The space plane’s flight controls and brakes do not use hydraulics, but use electro-mechanical catalysts.


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