Mighty Falcon Heavy launches two Space Force satellites in spectacular fashion
With a thunderous roar, SpaceX launched a three-core Falcon Heavy rocket for the US Space Force on Sunday, blasting a military communications satellite into space as well as a maneuverable payload carrier housing five classified technology demonstration packages .
Generating more than 5 million pounds of thrust from 27 Merlin engines powering the rocket’s central core and two strap-on boosters, the Falcon Heavy lifted off from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 5:56 p.m. EST, heading away eastward over the Atlantic Ocean.
The huge rocket, second only to the much more expensive NASA one Space Launch System Lunar Rocket In lift-off power, put on a spectacular show for spaceport workers, area residents and tourists alike, soaring into the glow of the setting sun atop a glowing fiery exhaust jet.
It was only the fifth flight of a Falcon Heavy, which made its debut in 2018 by launching a Tesla roadster in space with a mannequin in a pressure suit at the wheel.
While the Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in SpaceX’s inventory, it will be eclipsed by the company’s fully reusable Super Heavy/Starship, which is being readied for a first test flight in the coming months. from Boca Chica, Texas.
If performing as designed, the gargantuan Super Heavy will generate 16 million pounds of thrust, twice that of NASA’s SLS and three times more than the Falcon Heavy.
But the three-core Falcon Heavy, making its second national security launch, made a perfect ascent into space on Sunday.
Both side thrusters fired for two and a half minutes before dropping back and returning to side-by-side synchronized landings at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral. Announced as usual by sonic booms resembling shotguns, the boosters first flew on a Space Force Falcon Heavy last november and both will be reused in a future mission.
The central core thruster fired for a further minute and a half before also falling, leaving the rest of the ascent to the Falcon Heavy’s second stage. Unlike the side thrusters, the center stage used all of its thruster as planned to complete the climb out of the lower atmosphere and recovery was not possible.
The second stage used its single vacuum-optimized Merlin engine to achieve an initial parking orbit before heading to the targeted geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the equator. But as usual with many military launches, details have not been released.
Space Systems Command said in a pre-launch press release that the Falcon Heavy was carrying two satellites for the USSF-67 mission: a military communications relay station and a deployable satellite hosting five technology demonstration payloads.
Continuous Broadcast Augmentation SATCOM (CBAS)-2 is designed to operate in geosynchronous orbit “to provide communications relay capabilities in support of our senior leadership and combatant commanders,” the statement said. “CBAS-2’s mission is to augment existing military satellite communications capabilities and to continuously broadcast military data via space-based satellite relay links.”
The second satellite, Long Duration Propulsive ESPA (LDPE)-3A, is a payload carrier equipped with its own propulsion and navigation systems “to rapidly place multiple and diverse payloads into orbit and provide critical data to inform and influence future US Space Force programs.”
For the USSF-67 mission, hosted payloads included operational prototypes for “enhanced situational awareness” and encryption technology for space-to-ground communications. Two other payloads will likely test space weather sensors and possibly equipment to monitor other satellites.
The LDPE is “a cargo train to space for experiments and prototypes in geosynchronous Earth orbit that can manifest on any national security space launch mission with available mass headroom,” the LDPE said. Colonel Joseph Roth, Director of Innovation and Prototyping for Space Systems Command.
“LDPE’s modular design and standard interfaces provide the ideal platform for hosting a wide variety of payloads across many mission domains.”