SpaceX to livestream Falcon Heavy Block 5 launch debut at 6:15pm ET today

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk celebrates the success of Falcon Heavy's 2018 launch debut. (SpaceX/National Geographic)

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 weighing no less than 6000 kg (13,200 lb), Falcon Heavy will still have enough latent performance to attempt the recovery of all three of its new Block 5 boosters. With any luck, this will hopefully return SpaceX’s East Coast landing zones (LZ-1 and LZ-2) to successful operations after an anomaly in December 2018 caused Falcon 9 B1051 to landing a mile or so offshore.

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 Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY). Ranging from multiple sonic booms that will be audible for miles up and down the Florida coast and the potential to a potentially spectacular Florida sunset as a backdrop, Falcon Heavy’s second launch will be an event worth watching.

The first Block 5 version of Falcon Heavy prepares for its launch debut. The rocket is comprised of three first stage boosters, likely B1052, B1053, and B1055. (SpaceX)

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.

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SpaceX to livestream Falcon Heavy Block 5 launch debut at 6:15pm ET today
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