Falcon Heavy's third flight from SpaceX is scheduled for tonight and this launch is perhaps the most important for the powerful rocket. The Falcon Heavy will perform a mission for the Air Force, known as STP-2, which is ultimately intended to certify the vehicle as suitable for launching future national safety missions. If all goes well, the launch could help solidify the Falcon Heavy as a reliable missile for the Ministry of Defense and possibly position SpaceX as a start-up provider for the army for most of the next decade.
To evaluate the ability of the rocket, the Air Force has ordered the Falcon Heavy to launch 24 satellites into space at the same time. The different spacecraft – from NASA, the Air Force, the national oceanic and atmospheric administration and universities – each show a new technology or capacity in space, including a new type of atomic clock and alternatives to space propulsion. The 24 payloads go to three different jobs, so the Falcon Heavy has to re-light its engine up to four times in space to get everything to its final destination. In total, it takes three and a half hours from launch until the last satellite is deployed.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has labeled this mission as the "most difficult launch ever" due to its complexity. But it is also a challenge, given what is at stake for the company. SpaceX is one of four companies that compete as one of the two primary suppliers of the US Air Force in the course of much of the 2020 & # 39; s. The two companies chosen by the Air Force are the only ones eligible to receive contracts to launch DOD satellites between 2020 and 2024, with flights lasting until 2027. If SpaceX does the cut, it is eligible for launch millions of or perhaps billions of dollars in contracts from the Department of Defense. The Air Force has submitted proposals for missiles to meet the agency's launch needs, and SpaceX is likely to compete with the Falcon 9 the Falcon Heavy.
That is why SpaceX has to do this launch really well. The other companies in the running are Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman, both of which are developing new rockets (the New Glenn and OmegA, respectively). The United Launch Alliance is also developing a new rocket, Vulcan, based on the capabilities of its current fleet of vehicles, including the Atlas V and the Delta IV Heavy. All three SpaceX competitors receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the US Air Force to further develop their missiles. SpaceX recently filed a lawsuit with the US government for not receiving development money – an action that Blue Origin and ULA are trying to block.
However, the Falcon Heavy is the only operational rocket that competes for these contracts, giving SpaceX a unique opportunity to show off the vehicle's power for the rest. It is also a big launch for SpaceX, as it is the first time that the Air Force has been flying on a Falcon Heavy with previously flown boosters. The two outer cores of this Falcon Heavy were the outer boosters on the second Falcon Heavy, launched in April, which boosted the Arabsat-6A satellite for the Arab League. Both cores landed on SpaceX & # 39; s landing platforms in Cape Canaveral, Florida, after that mission. Until now, SpaceX has mainly used used missiles for its own commercial missions and missions for NASA. Only one small air force satellite flew on a used Falcon 9 rocket and was transported on another satellite.
Meanwhile, the core of the Falcon Heavy will attempt to land on one of SpaceX & # 39; s autonomous drone ships in the Atlantic after the launch. SpaceX still needs to restore the core of a Falcon Heavy intact after a mission. During the inaugural launch of the rocket, the core missed the drone ship it was aiming at and collided with the ocean after the fuel ran out to rewind the engines. At the second Falcon Heavy launch in April, the middle core successfully landed on a drone ship in the ocean, but the core accidentally collapsed on the way back to the coast due to jerky seas.
Take-off for the STP-2 mission is scheduled for 11:30 PM ET tonight from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, SpaceX has a robust four-hour launch window, so the Falcon Heavy can be launched tomorrow, June 25, to 3:30 AM ET. There is a 70 percent chance that the weather will be favorable for a launch, according to the 45th Air Force Space Wing launching off the Florida coast. If SpaceX cannot start tonight, it will have a backup launch day tomorrow, also at 11:30 PM ET.
There are a few options to view this mission because both SpaceX and NASA will stream the event live. NASA starts with coverage around 11PM ET, just a few minutes after the return of three astronauts from the international space station ISS is covered. SpaceX is also streamed live, starting about 20 minutes before takeoff. Make your choice which live stream is for you.