SpaceX will today launch its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time in more than three years.
Elon Musk’s company is aiming to send two US Space Force craft into orbit, two years after the mission was originally scheduled.
The repeated delays have been due to issues with the payload, which in this case includes a microsatellite dubbed TETRA-1 which has been created for “various prototype missions”.
The Falcon Heavy rocket has not launched since June 2019, when it lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center carrying two-dozen satellites, a deep space atomic clock, the ashes of astronaut Bill Pogue, and more.
At the time, it was deemed SpaceX’s most difficult launch.
Since then, the firm has carried out dozens of launches using its other rockets, including blasting its first all-civilian crew into space on a three-day journey.
The world’s most powerful operational rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, took to the Florida skies for the first time in over three years November 1 for the USSF-44 mission, a US Space Force contracted flight with a classified payload and at least one rideshare satellite..
This mission, the Falcon Heavy rocket reached a new milestone on its fourth-ever flight. This was both Falcon Heavy’s and SpaceX’s first mission direct to geostationary orbit (GEO). To achieve this direct-to-GEO trajectory, the Falcon Heavy upper stage will have a multi-hour coast phase between the GTO and GEO insertion burns.
Traditionally, most missions, including Falcon 9 flights, send payloads destined for GEO into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). This allows the spacecraft to propel itself into its eventual final orbit in GEO more than 35,200 km (22,000 mi) above the Earth rather than the launch vehicle.
NASA expects SpaceX to be ready to attempt a first orbital flight of its Starship vehicle, an essential element in the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration plans, as soon as early December, pending tests and regulatory approvals.
Speaking to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee Oc. 31, Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for Artemis Campaign Development at NASA, said the agency’s understanding of progress on testing of the Starship vehicle, including its Super Heavy booster, supported an orbital launch attempt late this year.
“Right now, the schedule would lead to an early December test flight,” he said. The profile for that test flight would be the same as the company previously detailed in regulatory filings, with the Super Heavy booster and Starship lifting off from the Boca Chica, Texas, test site. Starship would go into orbit but almost immediately reenter, splashing down near Hawaii after completing less than one orbit.
That schedule is dependent on several upcoming milestones, including a static-fire test of all 33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy booster designated Booster 7. SpaceX has yet to fire all 33 Raptor engines simultaneously, having done tests of up to seven engines at a time as well as a “spin prime” test where the engines’ turbopumps are turned on and propellant flowed through the engines without igniting them.
It was during a spin prime test July 11 that SpaceX suffered what NASA euphemistically calls a “high-energy event” when propellants ignited underneath the booster, damaging it. SpaceX has repaired the booster and implemented corrective actions, according to the agency.
Source: Sky News and NASA contributed to the article.