ORLANDO, Fla. — The planned Saturday liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy from Kennedy Space Center has been delayed until Sunday.
In what will be only the fifth ever flight of the powerhouse rocket, it's now set to blast off at 5:56 p.m. from KSC’s Launch Pad 39-A with its 5.1 million pounds of thrust on a mission for the Space Force dubbed USSF-67.
Falcon Heavy, which only falls second to NASA’s Space Launch System in terms of most powerful active rockets, is essentially three Falcon 9s strapped together providing 27 Merlin engines across the three first stages.
SpaceX will attempt to recover both side stages aiming for a touchdown at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Landing Zones 1 and 2, which will provide a double sonic boom up and down the Space Coast as they break the sound barrier on their way down. SpaceX said the sonic booms could be heard in Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Indian River, Seminole, Volusia, Polk, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties depending on weather conditions.
Sunset is at 5:48 p.m., so it should offer up some gorgeous views on launch and landing.
Space Launch Delta 45′s weather squadron had given Saturday’s launch attempt an 80% chance for good conditions, but winds remained heavy on the Space Coast during the day, although no reason was given by the Space Force or SpaceX for the delay. Sunday’s weather forecast, though, predicts better than a 90% chance for good conditions.
The launch is the third from the Space Coast in 2023 in a year that could send up between 86 to 92 from among all rocket companies, according to SLD 45 commander Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy. So far, all launches have been by SpaceX.
This is the second National Security Space Launch for Falcon Heavy having sent up USSF-44 in November. The rocket could send 141,000 pounds of payload to low-Earth orbit and nearly 60,000 pounds to the geosynchronous Earth orbit that’s the target of Sunday’s attempt.
“It greatly enhances out heavy lift capability,” said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency. “The measure of a spaceport really is not so much the number of launches but the total amount of payload that you can deliver to a useful destination to either achieve mission purpose or to create value.”
This flight looks to send up the Space Force’s second Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM communications satellite, the first of which launched in 2018 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V. The satellites send military data through space-based relay links, according to the Space Force.
Also on board is the Long Duration Propulsive ESPA 3A, which is a ride-share satellite that can host or deploy up to six payloads, what Space Force officials call a “freight train to space.”
The Space Force said this mission will use five of the six slots including two for Space Systems Command called “catcher” and “WASSAT,” the details of which were not provided. Also flying are three payloads developed by the Space Rapid Capabilities Office: two operational prototypes for “enhanced situational awareness” and another operational “crypto/interface encryption” payload for secure space-to-ground communications.
“This is a complex mission and truly represents what Assured Access to Space [a group that includes SLD 45 within Space Systems Command] is about and is why we’re so enthusiastic about this upcoming launch … our second Falcon Heavy in just months,” said Maj. Gen. Purdy. “The teamwork I’ve seen preparing for this launch has just been exceptional. We’ve worked side-by-side with SpaceX to ensure all boxes are checked … that all systems are go. And our processes for getting to that ‘go’ decision at [Launch Readiness Review] are thorough and constantly evolve, so they’re also more efficient than ever.”
SpaceX has four more Falcon Heavy missions on the books for 2023 including a third Space Force mission dubbed USSF-52 expected in the first half of 2023.
“I know the national security community is thrilled with the fact that the Falcon Heavy is not only proving itself capable, but it’s proving itself reliable,” DiBello said. “I think you’ll see an increasing dependence on the Falcon Heavy for launch capability for select payloads.”
Also coming up for the rocket is the launch of commercial company ViaSat 3 Americas’ communications satellite expected before summer, another telecom satellite for Hughes Network Systems called the Jupiter 3 later in the year, and October’s launch of NASA’s Psyche probe headed the metal-rich asteroid of the same name that orbits the sun beyond Mars.
Falcon Heavy has no problem sending payloads off toward Mars as proven by its first ever flight in 2018 that sent up Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster into space acting as the test payload for the new rocket. SpaceX followed that up with a commercial payload in April 2019 and then a Department of Defense mission in June 2019 before more than a three-year drought between launches three and four.
Falcon Heavy will eventually make way for SpaceX’s in-development Starship and Super Heavy rocket, which could see its first orbital launch as early as February, Musk said this month. When it blasts off, it will more than triple the power of Falcon Heavy and if successful make it the most powerful rocket to ever launch from Earth.
For now, though, Falcon Heavy, is one of the best shows in town, more than twice the power of United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy although short of SLS as well space shuttle and Apollo launches of the past. And Starship for now will only fly from Texas while SLS won’t lift off on Artemis II until at least 2024.
So for sheer power, Falcon Heavy launches on the Space Coast are expected to draw out the crowds.