Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX launches a secret Air Force space drone

Just this week, billionaire tech titan Elon Musk suggested that the global race for artificial intelligence would be the cause of World War III and that governments would take AI technology at "gunpoint" if necessary.

Now, his company SpaceX has launched a secret space drone for the Pentagon.

Thursday, Musk's space exploration company launched the Air Force's clandestine, unmanned X-37B space vehicle at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is the fifth launch for the X-37B space vehicle, but it is the first time SpaceX has facilitated the launch. It was revealed that Musk won the contract in June.

The Air Force is mostly not clear about the intentions for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle — details on the 29-foot drone and its mission are scant and vague.

"The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force," the military branch's website says. "The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth."

Notably, though, the X-37B can both stay orbiting in space for months — up to 270 days — and return experiments to Earth "for further inspection and analysis," according to the site.

SpaceX completed the launch of the mysterious unmanned Air Force vehicle despite earlier warnings that the weather forecast was only 50 percent favorable due to approaching Hurricane Irma.

Musk's launch of the Air Force space vehicle comes just a few months after the House of Representatives proposed the first ever "Space Corps" in the National Defense Authorization Bill.

The "Space Corps," the bill says, would be a division of the Department of the Air Force and would be established on Jan. 1, 2019. It would create, effectively, a branch of the military to operate in space, ''protecting the interests of the United States."

SpaceX's launch of the Air Force’s X-37B space vehicle.
Photo courtesy SpaceX
SpaceX's launch of the Air Force’s X-37B space vehicle.

According to Alabama Republican Rep. Mike D. Rogers, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, "Space Corps" would "focus on 'space domination,'" writes the Washington Post.

The bill passed the House in July but has yet to be considered by the Senate, according to GovTrack, a public record of where government legislation is in its creation process.