SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to launch X-37B Spaceplane

In a bit of a surprise, the USSF-52 mission will launch atop the Falcon Heavy no earlier than December 8th from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The USSF-52 mission has been scheduled off and on for quite a long time on the range schedule but kept getting pushed back due to payload delays, now we know what that payload is, the X-37B. The $130 million USSF-52 contract was awarded to SpaceX in June 2018 by the United States Air Force, then known as the AFSPC-52 mission and originally scheduled for 2020.

X-37B after its most recent mission on the Launch and Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center (Credit: U.S. Air Force)

Previously, the X-37B has gotten its ride to space via the Atlas V (5 times) and the Falcon 9 (1 time). Its most recent flight launched on the Atlas V in May 2020 and spent 908 days orbiting our planet and landed in November 2022.  All previous missions launched into low Earth orbit, and while the exact planned orbit is classified, it is likely the orbit will be a bit higher, taking advantage of the Falcon Heavy performance.

There are 2 known operational X-37B orbital vehicles, but it is currently unconfirmed which vehicle will be flying atop the Falcon Heavy.

As for the Falcon Heavy cores assigned to this mission, Booster 1064 and 1065 will be the side booster and landing back at Landing Zones 1 and 2. The center core is Booster 1084, making its first and final flight, as it will be expended and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean.

B1064 and B1065 performing a boost back burn during the USSF-67 mission (Credit: Richard Angle)

B1064 and B1065 have both made 4 flights to date, previously launching USSF-44, USSF-67, Echostar 24, and most recently, the Psyche mission for NASA.

SpaceX is currently switching Launch Complex 39A from the Falcon 9 configuration to the Falcon Heavy setup, which generally takes a couple of weeks at least.

If this launch holds to the schedule, this will be the 5th Falcon Heavy launch of 2023.

Questions or comments? Shoot me an email at, or Tweet me @RDAnglePhoto.

Richard Angle: Launch journalist, specializing in launch photography. Based on the Space Coast, a short drive from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pads.
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