Almost five years have passed since the successful launch of the massive Falcon Heavy rocket in February 2018. Since then, however, SpaceX’s heavy lift rocket has only flown three more times.
Why? That’s partly because there just isn’t that much demand for a heavy lift rocket. Another factor is that SpaceX has boosted the power of its Falcon 9 rocket enough to complete many of the missions originally manifested on the Falcon Heavy. However, the main reason for the low cadence is the lack of payload readiness for the new missile, particularly on the part of the US Department of Defense.
But now that trickle of Falcon Heavy launches could turn into a flood. The first of possibly five launches of the heavy-duty rocket this year could take place from Florida on Saturday.
First up is the USSF-64 mission. This will be the second Falcon Heavy mission for the US Space Force, and the rocket will carry two payloads into geostationary orbit. The first of the two vehicles on board is called CBAS-2, for Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM. This is essentially a communications relay satellite that the Space Force says will support operations by “augmenting existing military satellite communications capabilities and continually broadcasting military data over space-based satellite relay links.”
The second payload, called the Long Duration Propulsive ESPA-3A, is actually a “bus” of a spacecraft. It will house five different, smaller payloads and provide power and propulsion before dropping these vehicles into different orbits. Among these five payloads is a prototype “crypto/interface encryption” satellite that will deliver secure space-to-ground communications capability.
“This is a complex mission and truly represents what Assured Access to Space is about and why we‘We are so excited about this upcoming launch,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy, program executive officer for Assured Access to Space, in a press release.
SpaceX conducted a hot burn test of the rocket on Tuesday and said the vehicle was ready for launch. The rocket will use a brand new core stage and side-mount boosters that flew into space once as side-mount boosters on the USSF-44 Falcon Heavy mission, which launched November 1, 2022. SpaceX will again attempt to recover these lateral boosters in their land based landing zones for a future mission. The middle core is consumed.
Launch is scheduled for 5:55 p.m. ET (22:55 UTC) from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. weather conditions are favorable for the start attempt.
The timing of this launch is noteworthy, as the launch window opens just 10 minutes after sunset. This will be the first time the Falcon Heavy rocket has been launched at dusk, and it should be visible hundreds of miles up the Florida coast. Trevor Mahlmann will be on hand for Ars to provide unique insights into this large launch vehicle.
Falcon Heavy’s future missions this year include a commercial mission for satellite communications company ViaSat in March, the Space Force’s USSF-52 mission in April, a commercial mission for EchoStar in May, and the Psyche asteroid mission for NASA in October. All of these dates, as always in the launch business, are subject to change.
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