SpaceX deploys covert U.S. military satellite as Hurricane Irma closes in

SpaceX preparing for launch of mini spy space shuttle for US Air Force despite Hurricane Irma warning

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 Air Force sent a secret space plane into orbit from Florida on Thursday just ahead of Hurricane Irma's expected arrival this weekend.

The Boeing-built X-37B spaceplane arrived in orbit shortly after liftoff to complete SpaceX's 13th mission of the year, a record busy year for the California-headquartered commercial launch operator. What exactly the unmanned ship, referred to as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, has been tasked to accomplish is unclear. You might remember the X-37B from its previous trip to space, which it returned from in May of this year.

A communications satellite for SES and EchoStar is scheduled to fly into geostationary orbit no earlier than October 2 from pad 39A aboard a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster. The X-37B is going to a higher inclination orbit than usual but the X-37B's main mission is classified and is being fiercely guarded.

At the end of each X-37B mission, the winged craft glides down from space to a horizontal runway landing. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans. Its first space flight was in 2010. It has also said that the X-37B Orbital has a wingspan of 14 feet, 11 inches, is almost 30 feet long, and weighs 11,000 pounds.

In a sign of how long the X-37B can stay aloft, the third mission lasted 674 days while the fourth, which concluded in May, spent 718 days in orbit.

The SES 11/EchoStar 105 spacecraft has been delivered to Cape Canaveral from its Airbus Defense and Space factory in Toulouse, France. The goal was to get the launch up before the arrival of Hurricane Irma, and they succeeded.

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