SpaceX launches super-secret spaceplane for US Air Force

The launch took place in Florida earlier, ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Irma

SpaceX launches super-secret spaceplane for US Air Force

Orbital Test Vehicle 5 Mission. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX has launched a super-secret spaceplane for the US Air Force as Hurricane Irma storms towards the landing site for its reusable Falcon 9 rocket.

Despite the devastating weather forecast to hit Florida's coast in the coming days, SpaceX successfully took the mysterious X-37B spaceplane into orbit on the back of a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday.

The Falcon 9 has now returned to its launchpad at Cape Canaveral in the 16th successful return of a first-stage booster, and the seventh to take place on solid ground.

It will now need to be moved from its base as Hurricane Irma approaches Florida in time for Saturday morning.

A state of emergency has been declared in Florida as the category five hurricane approaches from the Caribbean, packing winds of around 300km/h.

A hurricane watch is now in effect for Florida Keys and parts of South Florida.

The storm has already caused widespread damage and left several people dead as it passes over Caribbean islands.

The X-37B previously spent 718 days in orbit for classified reasons, piquing the interest of locals who reported several mysterious sonic booms in the area following its launch.

The Air Force said the craft "performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies".

SpaceX has been valued at $21bn (€17.5bn), making it one of the most valuable privately owned companies in the world.

The aerospace manufacturer and space transport business was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 and has set a number of records regarding private sector achievements in spaceflight.