Spaceflight Insider

Successful static fire clears way for launch of third Falcon Heavy flight

SpaceX launched the second of one of the company's Falcon Heavy rockets on Thursday, April 11. Photo Credit: Scott Schilke / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX launched the second of one of the company’s Falcon Heavy rockets on Thursday, April 11. Photo Credit: Scott Schilke / SpaceFlight Insider

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Clearing one of the last hurdles before the flight of the Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) mission early next week, SpaceX is preparing for the first night launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket.

The Hawthorne, California-based company conducted a successful static test fire of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is currently the most powerful launch vehicle in service, late on June 19, 2019. The test fire is one of the last milestones the company conducts prior to flight.

The STP-2 mission will be the third, and first nighttime, flight. Personnel working at SpaceX’s Mission Control have a 4-hour window that opens at 11:30 p.m. ET on June 24, 2019 (03:30 GMT on June 25) in which to get the mission underway.

The Mission

Though not the heaviest payload that a Falcon Heavy has launched so far, STP-2 will be the most complex mission the heavy-lift rocket has undertaken. Indeed, SpaceX noted that the mission will be one of the more challenging ever performed by the company. Per SpaceX:

The STP-2 multi-manifest (rideshare) launch will demonstrate the capabilities of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle and provide critical data supporting certification for future National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions. In addition, SMC will use this mission as a pathfinder for the development of mission assurance policies and procedures related to the reuse of launch vehicle boosters. The STP-2 payloads are assembled from a host of mission partners including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), DoD research laboratories, and university research projects. STP-2 provides a unique space access opportunity for DoD and inter-agency science and technology missions that directly enhance the space capabilities of the U.S. and its allies and partners.

The DSX experiment is part of the Falcon Heavy's STP-2 payload. Image Credit: SpaceX

The DSX experiment is part of the Falcon Heavy’s STP-2 payload. Image Credit: SpaceX

Much like the payloads themselves, the clients who are included on Monday’s flight are diverse as well. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), DoD research laboratories, and university research projects all have payloads on STP-2’s manifest.

If everything goes as it is currently planned the launch, which is being managed by the United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), should see 24 separate satellites deployed to three separate initial orbits across four individual upper-stage engine burns.

The Rocket and a Record-Breaking Landing

SpaceX, as a company, was designed on the idea that it was possible to reduce the cost of sending payloads to orbit and begin crewed flights to the planet Mars. The Falcon Heavy could be a big part of that.

Standing an imposing 230 feet (70 meters), the Falcon Heavy measures about 12 feet (3.7 meters) in diameter and runs off of a mix of liquid oxygen and RP-1 (a highly-refined form of kerosene). Using 27 Merlin 1D rocket engines, the Falcon Heavy has the ability to send some 140,660 lbs (63,800 kg) to low-Earth orbit and 58,860 lbs (26,700 kgs) to a geostationary transfer orbit.

The vehicle tapped for this mission is a mixture of both old and new hardware. Though all three major booster components are derived from the company’s Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9, only the center booster is new. Both side-mounted boosters took part in the launch of Arabsat-6A, and STP-2 represents a quick, two-and-a-half month turnaround on those boosters.

Not only will the delivery of its customers’ payloads represent a significant challenge for SpaceX, but recovery of the vehicle’s center booster is adding its own complexity into the mission.

The core was initially set to land on the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) — Of Course I Still Love you — a scant 25 miles (40 kilometers) off the Florida coast, but was later moved to a record-setting 774 miles (1,245 kilometers).

The reason for the move was not immediately clear and it marks a significant increase over the previous record recovery of 603 miles (970 kilometers) on Arabsat-6.

Despite its immense size, the rocket is nimble and, like the Falcon 9, is capable of having its first stages land, either at a location near the launch site or out at sea on one of two autonomous spaceport drone ships.

The launch will be covered live on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.

Video courtesy of SpaceX via Deepak




Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

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