SpaceX is half a day away from the planned launch debut of Falcon Heavy Block 5, a milestone that will also be the rocket’s second launch ever and first mission with a commercial payload.
First and foremost, Falcon Heavy’s job is to safely place the Saudi Arabian communications satellite Arabsat 6A into a high-energy geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) more than 35,000 km (~22,000 mi) above Earth’s surface. Despite the satellite w
This time around, Falcon Heavy will be made entirely out of Block 5 hardware, including three new boosters (likely B1052, B1053, and B1055), a Block 5 upper stage with a Merlin Vacuum engine, and a recovery-optimized “Version 2” payload fairing. Altogether, Falcon Heavy likely weighs upwards of 80,000 kg (175,000 lb) empty and more than 1,420 metric tons (3,125,000 lb) when fully fueled. At liftoff, the Falcon Heavy Block 5 rocket’s 27 Merlin 1D engines are expected to produce no less than 5.1 million pounds (~2300 mT/23,000 kN) of thrust at full throttle, but that figure could rise as high as 5.6 million pounds (2550 mT/25,500 kN) of thrust depending on how one interprets rather vague official numbers from CEO Elon Musk.
Regardless, both Falcon Heavy side boosters will attempt to repeat the iconic side-by-side landings that are now a signature of the rocket’s 2018 launch debut, while the center core – traveling much faster at the point of stage separation – will travel nearly 1000 km (620 mi) downrange for a landing aboard drone ship
Falcon Heavy Flight 2 is made even more exciting by the fact that both of its Block 5 side boosters will be instrumental to a planned third launch of the SpaceX rocket as few as two months later. According to the US Air Force, an agreement was reached with SpaceX to use the opportunity – an intentionally low-risk mission known as Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) – to gain a much higher-fidelity understanding of how SpaceX launches, lands, refurbishes, and relaunches Falcon boosters. Aside from being the last major source of data for the ultimate certification of Falcon Heavy for high-value military launches, the USAF hopes that STP-2 will be a critical step towards opening the doors of launch contract competitions to flight-proven rockets like Falcon 9 and – eventually – Blue Origin’s New Glenn.
SpaceX’s launch webcast will go live approximately 20 minutes before liftoff, with the window stretching from 6:35 pm to 8:31 pm EDT (22:35-00:31 UTC). Weather is expected to be decent and is currently holding around 80% “go” for launch.
Check out Teslarati’s newsletters for prompt updates, on-the-ground perspectives, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes