Spaceflight Insider

UPDATE: SpaceX’s 2nd Falcon Heavy to launch Arabsat-6A

SpaceX readies its first Block 5 Falcon Heavy for flight inside the horizontal integration hangar just outside Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX readies its first Block 5 Falcon Heavy for flight inside the horizontal integration hangar just outside Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. Photo Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — SpaceX is poised to conduct the first commercial launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket with the Arabsat-6A mission.

Set to launch from Launch Complex 39A during a roughly 2-hour window that opens at about 6:35 p.m. EDT (22:35 GMT) April 10, the Arabsat-6A mission is planned to be the fourth SpaceX launch of the year and the first of two Falcon Heavy launches in 2019.

The satellite being launched is for Arabsat and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology. The rocket is expected to send the satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit.

SpaceX was initially targeting April 9 for the first launch attempt. However, the weather for that attempt wasn’t expected to be very favorable with only a 30% chance of acceptable conditions. The primary concerns being watched were “disturbed weather, anvil and cumulus clouds, and lightning.”

For the April 10 launch attempt, conditions are much more favorable with an 80% chance of acceptable weather.

In the lead up to the flight, SpaceX conducted a static fire test of the rocket’s 27 Merlin 1D engines. This took place on April 5.

That test had been scheduled for April 3 and then April 4, but was delayed for unknown reasons. Later, company CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that this launch is the first Block 5 version of Falcon Heavy, so teams are being extra cautious.

After the successful static fire, the vehicle was rolled back to the Horizontal Integration Facility for the payload to be mated to the second stage and final pre-launch checks to be conducted.

The inaugural Falcon Heavy launch occurred in February 2018 utilized Block 3 and Block 4 boosters. The Block 5 booster is the final iteration of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy first stages.

Block 5 has an upgraded thermal protection system and other modifications that improve booster reusability and decrease the time it takes to fly the booster again.

Falcon Heavy is currently the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two, according to SpaceX. It is capable of lofting 140,000 pounds (63,000 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit and 59,000 pounds (27,00 kilograms) to geostationary transfer orbit.

The Arabsat-6A spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin in Denver, Colorado, and utilizes the A2100 satellite bus. At roughly 13,000 pounds (6,000 kilograms) spacecraft is expected to operate from the 30.5-degrees East orbital slot and provide television, internet, and phone services to customers throughout the Middle Eastern and northern Africa for a planned design life of 15 years.

Following the launch, the two side boosters are planned to perform a boostback burn to return to Landing Zones 1 and 2 at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Several sonic booms are expected.

Meanwhile, the core stage is expected to land on a drone ship downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. If it lands successfully, it would be the first successful landing of a Falcon Heavy core stage—the one from the inaugural flight missed the landing platform by several meters. According to SpaceX, only one of the three engines planned to relight successfully did so. As such, the core was not able to slow down enough.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect SpaceX’s new target launch date of April 10, 2019.

The Arabsat-6A satellite undergoing final testing at Lockheed Martin's Sunnyvale, California, site. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Arabsat-6A satellite undergoing final testing at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, California, site. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin



Patrick Attwell is a native of Houston, Texas but he currently resides in Austin, Texas where he studies accounting at Concordia University Texas. Atwell has had a passion for all things pertaining to aerospace, rocketry, and aviation. Atwell has worked to cover these fields for more than a decade. After he attended and watched the launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission it gave him what is known in the space community as “rocket fever.” Since that time, Atwell has followed his dreams and has covered events dealing with NASA’s Commercial Crew flight assignments at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and other space-related events in the Lone Star State.

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