Watch live: Air Force plans X-37B spy plane launch

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ORLANDO, Fla., May 17 (UPI) — The Air Force plans to launch the sixth mission of the uncrewed X-37B spy plane toward orbit at 9:14 a.m. EDT Sunday from Florida with a record number of experiments on board.

The Space Force plans to propel the plane atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is adjacent to Kennedy Space Center.

The mission start was delayed from Saturday morning because of high winds at the launch site and a heavy cloud cover.

A 30 percent chance exists that weather conditions will delay the launch, according to a U.S. Air Force forecast.

The launch is one of a few that have been held during restrictions on access to the Air Force station due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In collaboration with the U.S. Space Force and Air Force, this mission has been dedicated in honor of front-line workers and those affected by COVID-19,” United Launch Alliance said in a news release Friday.

Experiments on board are to include studying the effects of space travel on various materials, and the effect of space radiation on seeds.

The mission will be the first time the Boeing-built plane uses a service module to host experiments. The module is an attachment at the rear of the vehicle that allows additional experimental payload capability to be carried to orbit.

The mission also will deploy the FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, which will conduct several experiments in orbit. The satellite will carry five experimental payloads for the academy, along with two NASA experiments.

Another experiment from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory will transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy, with the goal of transmitting that energy to the ground.

The last X-37B mission was launched Sept. 7, 2017 and ended Oct. 27, 2019 for 779 days, 17 hours, 51 minutes. It was the first launch of that vehicle on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the plane’s longest mission.

SpaceX, NASA prepare to return astronauts to space from U.S. soil

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (L) and Bob Behnken stand near Launch Pad 39A during a dress rehearsal ahead of the SpaceX uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on January 17. In the background, the company’s Falcon 9 rocket is topped by the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The flight test will demonstrate the spacecraft’s escape capabilities in preparation for crewed flights to the International Space Station. Photo by Kim Shiflett/NASA | License Photo

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