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SpaceX squeaks in another launch and land ahead of Hurricane Irma

Video SpaceX has successfully launched the US Air Force's secretive mini-space-shuttle X-37B from the biz's launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, Florida.

According to the forecast by the Patrick #Air Force Base, Irma is expected to reach the area about 900 miles near the launch site during the scheduled take-off. Its next launch, an EchoStar delivery scheduled for October, will use one of the refurbished Falcons - the rocket that flew in February to resupply the International Space Station.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno disputes that ULA was even afforded the opportunity to participate in the bidding process, however.

The X-37B mission is the second national security launch for SpaceX since the Air Force certified the Falcon 9 in 2015 to compete for Defense Department business.

Yes, you read that correctly; this marked SpaceX's 16 overall successful landing of the Falcon 9 (and the seventh on terra firma).

The US military claims the unmanned X-37B is furthering "operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies", which could involve recovery of satellites or debris for fix or scrap on Earth.

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).

SpaceX has pulled off some exhilarating launches and landings in the past, but today's mission ranks among its most suspenseful. Four earlier missions rode United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets launched from Cape Canaveral.

The Air Force has not disclosed many details about the space craft other than to say it's designed for "low Earth orbit altitudes where it can perform long duration space technology experimentation and testing". The X-37B, built by Boeing, is an uncrewed vehicle, but resembles the Space Shuttle on a smaller scale. "It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community". She suggested that price was a factor in the Air Force's decision to go with Falcon 9.

On its last mission, the solar-powered X-37B stayed in orbit for 718 days before returning to land on May 7 - longer than any of its previous flights.

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