SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket for its third and most difficult mission ever from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Launched at 2:30 am (EDT) tonight, the project named as Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) will be the first night flight of the Falcon Heavy. It is also the first mission; wherein, the rocket will be reusing two side boosters that were used in its April flight. The original schedule for take-off was 11:30 PM (EDT).
In April, the Falcon Heavy landed all three of its boosters safely. Its two side boosters landed on the Cape Canaveral; while the center core landed on the company’s drone ship. However, its center core was lost in the Atlantic ocean due to the rough sea conditions. Thus for the STP-2 mission, Falcon Heavy is using a new center core.
STP-2 is a mission coordinated with the Department of Defense. However, most of its payload is from different organizations, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations, and universities. Falcon Heavy’s third mission has a total of 24 satellites to be delivered in three major location points in the atmosphere.
Elon Musk tweeted a picture of the Falcon Heavy yesterday before it’s night flight take-off.
To check out SpaceX’s livestream of the STP-2 mission, click here.
Falcon Heavy’s third launch is an essential part of history, as the rocket shoulders two dozen payloads in one flight such as a variety of satellites and technology experiments.
One of which is the Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment (E-TBEx), twin cube satellites that will explore “bubbles” in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, that disrupt communication signals. This study aims to understand these bubbles to then come up with solutions to lessen the disruptions.
Another significant payload is the Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), which will be an autonomous GPS system for spacecrafts. For one year, the DSAC will be on-board a spacecraft that will orbit the Earth to collect data for navigation.
Bill Nye’s non-profit organization, The Planetary Society, also added a payload in the Falcon Heavy STP-2 mission. Its device called LightSail 2, a new spaceflight device powered by solar energy. It will be tested to fly and maneuver around the Earth. In 2015, Bill Nye started a Kickstarter to fund the creation of the first Lightsail prototype.
Built by students at the University of Texas in collaboration with Baylor University, the Attitude Related Maneuvers and Debris Instrumentation in Low (L) Orbit or the ARMADILLO was deployed as confirmed by Space X. The purpose of the satellite is to research and characterize space debris in the Earth’s orbit.
Future for SpaceX
Aside from the delivery of the 24 satellites, Falcon Heavy’s third mission is important in determining the future of SpaceX.
The Air Force will be taking on two primary launch providers from 2020 to 2024. Flights for this contract period may last until 2027. Currently, there are four companies vying for the two spots–SpaceX is one of them.
Earlier this year, SpaceX has filed a lawsuit against the US government because unlike its competitors, SpaceX did not receive any funding for its development of Falcon Heavy. The funding for the other competitors were part of the Launch Service Agreement program. The Air Force clarifies that being part of the LSA program does not automatically mean granting of the 2020-2024 military launch contracts.
However, SpaceX’s advantage is that it has the only operational rocket in existence to date. Thus, Falcon Heavy’s STP-2 is crucial in showcasing how powerful the rocket is. SpaceX aims to successfully deliver the 24 payloads within the three destination points designated. Showcasing the re-use of its two side boosters also addresses concerns on Falcon Heavy’s reliability. Of course, the company also aims to retrieve all three of its boosters to be re-used again in a different launch.