SpaceX Launches Secret Spy Plane Before Hurricane Irma Hits

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off today in Florida, launched a U.S. Air Force space plane into orbit for a classified mission, and landed safe and sound in Cape Canaveral about eight minutes after launch. All of this happened soon before Irma, a monster hurricane, is predicted to hit the state of Florida.

SpaceX provided a live webcast of the event which ran for 22 minutes, shown below.

The orbital test vehicle is an experimental program for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force,” said Michael Hammersley, materials and processing engineer with SpaceX, who spoke during the webcast. “The primary objectives of the orbital test vehicle are twofold: To demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and to operate experiments which can be returned to, and then examined, on Earth.”

Cheers could be heard during the webcast during liftoff, the moment the SpaceX rocket released the Air Force plane into orbit, and when the rocket landed safely back at the base.

SpaceX tweeted photos of the rocket at liftoff and touchdown.

Although Hurricane Irma is not slated to reach Florida until the weekend, prior to today’s rocket launch it was unsure as to whether the launch would happen due to possible bad weather.

Although this is the fifth mystery mission the Air Force’s X-37B space plane, today’s event marks the first time the craft was launched atop a SpaceX rocket.

Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off

Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket as it lifts off in Cape Canaveral, Florida June 28, 2015. | Bruce Weaver/AFP/Getty Images

The details of the mission were vague, reported The Verge, which stated the X-37B would be going into a higher inclination orbit than usual (meaning a much more tilted orbit related to the equator). Details provided by the Air Force included that its vehicle would be carrying small satellites and testing out experimental technologies for space.

While there was no word on how long the X-37B will remain in space, the space plane returned in May after a two-year orbit.