SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which made its successful debut launch in February 2018, is set to hit its stride with a potential five launches this year. The rocket has flown just three additional times since its debut, due to a lack of demand for a heavy-lift rocket and the increased performance of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. However, the main reason for the low cadence has been due to a lack of readiness of payloads for the new rocket, particularly from the US Department of Defense.
The first of these launches are scheduled for Saturday, from Florida, and is the USSF-67 mission. This will be the second Falcon Heavy mission for the US Space Force, and the rocket will be carrying two payloads into geostationary orbit. The first payload is named CBAS-2, for Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM, which is a communications relay satellite that will support operations by augmenting “existing military satellite communication capabilities and continuously broadcast military data through space-based satellite relay links.”
The second payload, called Long Duration Propulsive ESPA-3A, is a spacecraft “bus.” It will host five different, smaller payloads and provide power and propulsion before dropping these vehicles into various orbits. Among these five payloads is a prototype “crypto/interface encryption” satellite that will deliver secure space-to-ground communications capability.
SpaceX completed a hot fire test of the rocket on Tuesday and declared that the vehicle was ready for liftoff. The rocket will use a brand new core stage and side-mounted boosters that have flown into space one time. SpaceX will again attempt to recover these side boosters, at its land-based landing zones, for a future mission. The center core will be expanded.
The launch is scheduled for 5:55 pm ET (22:55 UTC) from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, weather conditions are favorable for the launch attempt. The timing for this launch is noteworthy, as the launch window opens just 10 minutes after sunset. This will be the first time that the Falcon Heavy rocket has launched in the twilight, and it should be visible for hundreds of kilometers up and down the Florida coast.
Future Falcon Heavy missions this year include a commercial mission for the satellite communications company ViaSat in March, the Space Force’s USSF-52 mission in April, a commercial mission for EchoStar in May, and the Psyche asteroid mission for NASA in October. All of those dates, as ever in the launch business, are subject to change.