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SpaceX Launches Super-Secret Air Force X-37B Shuttle Before Irma Approaches

The Air Force successfully launched its secretive X-37B space plane from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, the service confirmed.

The rocket blasted off at 10 a.m. from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, the Air Force said in a release.

"I'm incredibly proud of the 45th Space Wing's contributions to the X-37B program," said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander. "This marks the fifth successful launch of the [X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle] and its first on board a Falcon 9," Monteith said in the release. The 45th Space Wing spearheaded Thursday's launch.

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"A strong relationship with our mission partners, such as the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, is vital toward maintaining the Eastern Range as the World's Premiere Gateway to Space," the general said.

The Air Force said last week it would -- for the first time -- launch the mysterious experimental space plane aboard Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

While the payloads and most activities of the robotic X-37B are classified, the Air Force said this mission will carry "the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader (ASETS-II) payload to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment."

United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., has launched the unmanned vehicle's previous four missions via its Atlas V rockets.

The OTV completed its fourth mission on May 7, 2017, landing after 718 days in orbit and extending its total number of days spent in orbit to 2,085, the service said.

The program hit a milestone during its fourth rotation on March 25 after the X-37B spent 675 days in orbit, surpassing its previous record of 674 days.

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