Watch live: SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch to carry weather satellites, other payloads
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., June 24 (UPI) — SpaceX‘s third-ever Falcon Heavy rocket went upright Monday in Florida, prepared to launch 24 military and government research satellites from Kennedy Space Center.
It’s the first time the military is using the world’s most powerful rocket, and the first nighttime launch for the Falcon Heavy. It’s also the first time such a government mission will fly using two SpaceX side boosters that have been flown before.
The rocket is scheduled to lift off from historic launch pad 39A at 11:30 p.m., although there is a four-hour window should a delay occur. That pad also saw the launch of Apollo 11, the first manned moon mission, 50 years ago next month.
And it is the most challenging launch ever for SpaceX, according to founder Elon Musk. The rocket is to release the satellites in three different orbits over a period of hours.
Besides being such a big rocket at liftoff, the launch will feature another unique sight — two boosters flying back to pads at Cape Canaveral. That has never happened at night before.
A primary mission, called COSMIC-2, includes six spacecraft that could help improve hurricane forecasting. They are designed to measure atmospheric distortion of satellite signals to improve severe weather forecasting.
The satellites will orbit Earth near the equator, taking measurements of the tropics and subtropics, and monitoring the ionosphere for the effects of solar storms.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization, the new satellites could Improve accuracy of weather forecasts up to four days in advance. They will “collect water vapor data that will help meteorologists observe, study and forecast hurricanes and other severe storms.”
As of Monday, the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron said weather is 80 percent favorable for the night launch. If postponed, another attempt is scheduled at the same time Tuesday.
In addition to NOAA, the satellites are to be operated by the Defense Department and NASA. Some are intended conduct space environmental monitoring, communications and advanced space technologies.
“It’s an exciting partnership with NASA, NOAA and SpaceX to provide space access for important military and civil experiments while demonstrating the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle capabilities,” Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Air Force program executive officer for space, said in a statement.
Another Air Force satellite on board will research technologies to improve spacecraft operation in the harsh radiation environment of medium-Earth orbit.
Monday night’s mission, known as STP-2, for Space Test Program-2, also includes four unique NASA experiments, five small satellites, 11 CubeSats — miniature satellites for space research — as well as other experiments.