SpaceX Falcon Heavy To Loft USSF-44 on First Flight In Three Years

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which is the world’s most powerful working rocket, will take to the skies over Florida for the first time in more than three years. USSF-44, a flight contracted by the US Space Force with a classified payload and at least one satellite that will ride along, is ready to take off.

Liftoff is scheduled for Tuesday, November 1 at 9:41 AM EDT (13:41 UTC) from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launches USSF

On its fourth flight, this mission will be a big step forward for the Falcon Heavy rocket. This will be the first direct mission to geostationary orbit for both Falcon Heavy and SpaceX. (GEO). To get on this direct-to-GEO path, the Falcon Heavy’s upper stage will coast for several hours between its GTO and GEO insertion burns.

Most missions, including Falcon 9 flights, have been sending GEO-bound payloads into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). This lets the spacecraft, instead of the launch vehicle, move into its final orbit in GEO, which is more than 35,200 km (22,000 mi) above the Earth. At least two different satellites, TETRA-1 and another one that no one knows about yet will be on board. There may be other classified payloads on board, but the exact details have not been made public.

Millennium Space Systems, which is a company owned by Boeing, was in charge of making TETRA-1. TETRA-1 is a small satellite that will be finished in 2020 and used for test missions in and around GEO. The US Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Enterprise Consortium Other Transaction Authority (OTA) charter gave TETRA-1 as its first prototype. The spacecraft is based on a line of small satellites called the ALTAIR class. It is the first ALTAIR satellite that meets the requirements to work in GEO.

The mission, which was first bought for the US Air Force as AFSPC-44, cost around $150 million in 2019 and wasn’t supposed to take off until the fourth quarter of 2020 at the earliest. But the mission was delayed more than once because of problems with what officials called “payload readiness.” The exact problems with readiness were not made public.

The First Stage of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket

The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is made up of three boosters: one in the middle and two on the sides. Each has nine Merlin-1D engines, which is the same number as a regular Falcon 9. The side boosters can be changed into Falcon 9s, but the center core cannot be changed because it is made to handle the forces of liftoff when it is connected to the side boosters.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launches USSF
SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launches USSF

Three brand-new boosters will be used for this mission. The side boosters, B1064 and B1065, will land at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Landing Zones 1 and 2 (LZ-1 and LZ-2). In 2021, it was first said that these boosters would land on two barges that were floating downrange. But it was recently changed to a “return to launch site” (RTLS) profile, which led to landings at LZ-1 and LZ-2 that were almost at the same time.

Due to the difficult launch profile, the new center core, B1066, will be thrown away when its job is done.

At T-50 minutes, RP-1, a refined form of kerosene, will start to fill the first stage. About five minutes later, the first stage starts to fill with liquid oxygen (LOX). When the core and side boosters are full, the first stage will have about 287,000 kg of LOX and 123,000 kg of RP-1.

The Second stage of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket

The second stage will start getting RP-1 35 minutes before liftoff. About 17 minutes later, it will get LOX.

Seven minutes before liftoff, all 27 Merlin 1D engines are cooled down and ready to start. Just before T-1 minute, computers inside the Falcon Heavy take over the count as the vehicle is “starting up.” Shortly after that, the tanks reach flight pressure.

With the help of TEA/TEB, the 27 engines on the side boosters and core start firing at different times just before liftoff. When all of the engines are going full speed, the vehicle will check its health. If everything works as it should, the vehicle will move away from LC-39A with 5.1 million pounds of thrust.

Less than a minute after launch, Falcon Heavy reaches Max-Q, which is the point in the flight when the vehicle is going through the most force.

All 27 engines keep running until about two and a half minutes after takeoff when the side boosters stop working and the plane starts to split apart. Before their second burn, which is called a “boostback burn,” B1064 and B1065 will do a maneuver to turn themselves around. This will put them on track to return to LZ-1 and LZ-2.

About three and a half minutes into the flight, a number of things happen quickly one after the other. The nine engines on the center booster shut off, and a few seconds later, it broke away from the second stage. Then, in a process called “second engine start one,” the Stage 2 Merlin Vacuum (MVac) engine fires up (SES-1). Soon after, the payload fairing halves, which were protecting the USSF-44 payloads before the vehicle went into space, are no longer needed and fall back to Earth to be picked up.

A little more than seven minutes after liftoff, the two side boosters start their entry burn as they come back into the atmosphere of Earth. That puts them on track for one last burn, called the landing burn, for each side booster. This last relight will slow down the vehicles until they gently land at LZ-1 and LZ-2 a few seconds apart, about eight and a half minutes after they first took off a few miles away. This will finish their mission.

These would be the 150th and 151st times that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters have landed safely. During this time, the second stage will have finished its first burn, which will cause the second engine to shut off (SECO-1). The next step will be a second re-start, which will send the second stage and payloads to an apogee near 35,786 km, which is the height of the geostationary orbit (22,236 mi).

At this point, the vehicle starts to coast for a long time. A special layer of grey paint was put on the RP-1 tank of the second stage before launch. This will keep the RP-1 from freezing for a long time between burns. After the multi-hour coast phase, SES-3 will help make the orbit more circular before the satellites are put into place. The second stage will then go into a “graveyard orbit” far from the satellites that have just been put into place.

This is SpaceX’s 50th orbital launch of the year, which is a company record, and the fourth launch of a Falcon Heavy. Even though there has been a three-year break, the Falcon Heavy launch manifest is still full of commercial and military launches planned for the next few years.

What do you think about our post? Drop a comment below.

Stay tuned for more updates on