The Falcon Heavy is about to roar again

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is about to make a comeback. For the first time since June 2019, SpaceX’s launch vehicle, the most powerful currently on the market, will roar its engines as part of a mission for the US Space Force, the details of which are a little vague.

If all goes as planned, a Falcon Heavy will be launched on October 28 from Florida. The mission, known as USSF-44, aims to deploy two US Space Force payloads into geosynchronous orbit (GEO). It will be the first national security space mission using the Falcon Heavy and the first SpaceX mission to fly directly to geosynchronous orbit.

The smaller of the two payloads on this mission is the microsatellite built by Millennium Space Systems, a subsidiary of Boeing. Called TETRA-1, it is a prototype GEO satellite aimed at testing procedures and tactics that will inform the development of future satellites. It will be placed 35,786 kilometers above the earth’s surface.

Almost nothing is known about the second payload, except that it is probably much larger than the small TETRA-1 satellite. The combined mass of the two payloads amounts to more than 3.7 tons, hence the need for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to launch such a heavy and high payload.

A “new” rocket

Remember that the Falcon Heavy is a reinforced fusion of three Falcon 9 rockets. Equipped with 28 Merlin engines, the rocket generates over 2.2 million pounds of liftoff thrust and can deliver more than 63 tons of cargo to low earth orbit. This launcher was originally designed to carry humans into space. Since then, SpaceX has developed its Starship project.

For this next flight, the Falcon Heavy will consist of a new central core. The two side boosters will also be brand new. The latter will attempt vertical landings at Cape Canaveral, while the central core will not be recovered.

Inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy on February 6, 2018. The rocket carried a dummy payload: Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster. Credits: SpaceX

This new mission will only be an aperitif. The Falcon Heavy manifesto is indeed full, with no less than eleven pending missions. Six of them will be operated on behalf of NASA. The American space agency has notably selected the Falcon Heavy to deliver two fundamental elements of its future lunar station and to launch the long-awaited Europa Clipper mission. Count around 150 million dollars per launch.

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