As Hurricane Irma continues to generate anxiety among Florida residents, now it seems as if the imminent hurricane could compromise SpaceX’s launch of an Air Force X-37B spy plane from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center this week.

The spy plane, which will be attached to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, was built by Boeing. The company has built at least two of the unmanned spacecraft for the Air Force. In fact, the other spacecraft landed in May at Kennedy Space Center after spending 718 days in continuous spy-flight.

Air Force X-37B. Image Credit: U.S. Air Force
Air Force X-37B. Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

As of today, the launch is still set for Thursday, although the event will face a 50 percent chance of violating weather rules, according to the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

If launch is delayed until Friday and chances of carrying it out drop to 40 percent

Irma is forecasted to hit Florida this week and has been as a “potentially catastrophic” hurricane by experts. The Category 5 storm is currently lurking near Caribbean islands like Antigua and Barbuda with near-record 185 mph winds. If the storm worsens on his way through Florida, it is possible that the launch will have to be canceled.

“Hurricane Irma is forecast to be approximately 950 miles southeast of the Spaceport during Thursday’s launch attempt, so while Irma certainly bears watching, it will not be a factor in Thursday’s weather,” forecasters said in a Tuesday update, according to Florida Today.

However, the forecast also said that thick and cumulus clouds are the primary concerns. Officials said a launch delay to Friday would diminish launch possibilities even more – to a 40 percent.

Hurricane Irma heading towards the Caribbean as of Tuesday, September 5, 2017. Image Credit: NOAA
Hurricane Irma heading towards the Caribbean as of Tuesday, September 5, 2017. Image Credit: NOAA

“The pressure gradient between the high-pressure area behind the frontal boundary and Hurricane Irma will begin to tighten,” said the forecasters. “This will create northeast low-level winds that will strengthen, becoming 20 mph by the end of the launch window.”

Thursday’s launch will mark the Air Force’s fifth OTV mission

The launch time has not been announced yet by the Air Force nor by SpaceX, but a notice issued to aviators by the Federal Aviation Administration said that nearby airspace would be closed between 9:20 a.m. and 2:55 p.m.

Thursday’s launch would mark SpaceX’s first attempt to boost an 11,000-pound unmanned space plane to low Earth orbit. Boeing’s two existing planes, dubbed X-37B, measure about 29 feet long with a 15-foot wingspan. Meanwhile, the launch would mark the Air Force’s fifth Orbital Test Vehicle mission, or OTV 5.

The confidential program is based in two old space shuttle hangars near the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The last mission landed in May after setting a 718-day record time flying around the world.

“The fifth OTV mission continues to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads,” the Air Force said in a statement last week. “This mission carries small satellite ride shares and will demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies.”

Source: Florida Today