by Chris Tobias
SpaceX is targeting this Monday for the first night launch of the Falcon Heavy. The four-hour launch window for liftoff is set to open NET June 24 at 11:30pm EST (3:30 GMT June 25), with a back-up launch window 24 hours later if necessary.
The mission, which will launch from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will carry 24 satellites into the black for the U.S. military, NOAA, NASA, and various academic institutions, inserting them into either low or medium Earth orbits. It will require no less than four upper-stage engine burns, more than any SpaceX launch vehicle has ever done, and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted on June 19, “This will be our most difficult launch ever.” The satellites themselves are designed for missions ranging from weather observation to technology demonstration.
Dubbed Space Test Program-2 (STP-2), the mission is being overseen by the US Air Force. It will use a combination of reflown and new boosters, with the two side boosters having previously flown on the most recent Falcon Heavy flight April 11. (The center core booster for the STP-2 mission was recently rolled out from SpaceX’s factory in Hawthorne, California.) This will be the first time the Air Force has used previously-flown hardware for a military satellite launch, something which it agreed to do in order to learn more about SpaceX’s process of launching and recovering rockets before allowing the Falcon Heavy to launch more expensive national security satellites (potentially with reused boosters).
As with previous Falcon Heavy missions, SpaceX plans to recover all three first-stage boosters post-launch. The two side boosters will land at LZ-1 and LZ-2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the center core booster will be recovered at sea aboard SpaceX’s drone recovery ship Of Course I Still Love You, which will be stationed in the Atlantic just off the Florida coast.
For those who wish to see what promises to be a visually spectacular night launch of the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s webcast of the launch should go live at spacex.com and the company’s YouTube channel approximately 20 minutes before liftoff. With military payloads involved, it is possible that the webcast may conclude before all payloads have deployed, but that shouldn’t get in the way of any “ooh”-and-“ahh”-inspiring moments when Falcon Heavy lights up the night sky as she breaks atmo!
Peace, love and rockets…