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Today, sometime between right now and about 3pm ET, the company will send a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a US Air Force X-37B space plane from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, just days before Hurricane Irma is expected to strike Florida.

Update 10:08am: SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket back at landing zone one at Kennedy Space Center.

What's also unclear how long the X-37B will remain in orbit. U.S. officials have never publicly specified what business the X-37B is engaged in while it's circling the Earth but it has been logging missions since 2010.

About 2.5 minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9's two stages separated.

Built by Boeing's Phantom Works division and managed by the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office, each spaceship has a wingspan of almost 15 feet (4.5 meters) and a length of more than 29 feet (8.9 meters). By comparison, Nasa's retired space shuttles were 122ft long with a 78ft wingspan. The two manless vehicles have spent a combined 5.5 years orbiting in space. The four or more weeks between launches at LC-39A will hopefully provide SpaceX enough time to deal with whatever complications Hurricane Irma brings, and will also provide plenty of breathing room for the team of engineers working to reactivate launch pad LC-40. While the secretive nature of the Orbital Test Vehicle missions mean that live coverage ended after the first stage landed, this resulted in awesome live coverage of the landing, as is now routine. The first stage has been readied for a second launch after a successful liftoff and landing in February. Thankfully, Hurricane Irma is still a ways off the Florida coast, and isn't expected to impact the event.

But this week's rocket launch is not what an ordinary SpaceX launch looks like.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office with its operations overseen by Air Force Space Command's 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron.

SpaceX plans to reuse one of those recovered rockets for a commercial satellite launch no sooner than October.


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