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SpaceX launches the X-37B, the Pentagon's secretive autonomous space drone

The mission is slated to last 270 days, but the Air Force warned in a statement that “the actual duration depends on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance and conditions at the landing facility.”

On a fact sheet, the Air Force says that, “the primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

The mission is also significant because it marked the first time Spacex has been chosen to launch for the Air Force — a coup for the California firm started in 2002 by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The provision, included in the House’s version of the defense spending bill, comes amid concerns that Russia and China are quickly eroding the advantage that the United States has held in orbit for years.

“Space has become so critical to the way we fight and win wars, it can no longer be subordinate,” Rep. Mike D. Rogers, a Republican from Alabama who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said at an event this week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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SpaceX launches the X-37B, the Pentagon's secretive autonomous space drone


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