The next launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket has been delayed from July to October to wait for its U.S. military payload to be ready, and the next Falcon Heavy flight has been postponed from late this year to some time in 2022, have said military officials.
Col. Robert Bongiovi, head of the launch company at the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, said on Wednesday that the USSF-44 and USSF-52 missions – both carrying US military satellites – had been pushed back from their homes. previous target launch dates in July. and October.
The missions are SpaceX’s first two Falcon Heavy rocket launches to carry the military’s highest priority national security payloads. Falcon Heavy’s most recent launch in June 2019 was also for the US military, but it put a group of lower priority experimental satellites into orbit.
The USSF-44 mission moved from a launch date in July to October to “accommodate payload readiness,” according to Col. Douglas Pentecost, deputy director of SMC’s launch company. The next mission, USSF-52, was previously scheduled to launch in October this year, but has now been moved to 2022 “based on the priorities of the launch manifesto,” Pentecost said in a statement to Spaceflight Now.
The Falcon Heavy missions are slated to be the fourth and fifth flights of SpaceX’s three-core heavy lifting aircraft. Both launches will take off from Station 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Falcon Heavy will deliver several military payloads into a high altitude geosynchronous orbit during the USSF-44 mission. The top stage of the rocket will fire several times to place the satellites in position more than 22,000 miles above the equator.
The upper stage flight profile will include a coast lasting more than five hours between burns, making the USSF-44 mission one of SpaceX’s most demanding launches to date.
During the last Falcon Heavy mission, which took off in June 2019, the rocket’s upper stage performed four burns in three and a half hours on an Air Force-sponsored demonstration flight. The launch of STP-2 in 2019 served as a pioneer for the long-duration USSF-44 mission.
The complex orbital maneuvers of the STP-2 mission were necessary to place 24 satellite payloads in three separate orbits. They also exercised the capabilities of the Falcon Heavy and its Merlin top-stage engine before the military gave the launcher more critical and costly operational national security payloads on future flights, such as the USSF-44 mission. .
SpaceX won a contract for the launch of the USSF-44 in February 2019. In the call for proposals for the launch of the USSF-44, the military told potential launch vendors to assume the combined mass of two payloads assigned to the mission is less than 8,200 pounds, or approximately 3.7 metric tons.
The Space Force has not said if there are still two satellites reserved for the USSF-44 mission, or if officials have added more secondary payloads since contract award in 2019. One of the spacecraft launch of USSF-44 is a microsatellite named TETRA 1 built by Millennium Space Systems, a subsidiary of Boeing headquartered in El Segundo, California.
Military officials said in a statement that the TETRA 1 satellite was created to “prototype missions and tactics, techniques and procedures in and around Earth’s geosynchronous orbit.”
The Space Force has disclosed no payload on the USSF-52 launch next year, but military officials wrote in a draft contract solicitation that the mission would deliver a heavy payload to a transfer orbit. geostationary, an elongated path around the Earth used as a drop-off point for many satellites moving into a circular geosynchronous orbit.
SpaceX has launched three Falcon Heavy rocket missions to date, all of them successfully. The company has at least eight confirmed Falcon Heavy missions in its backlog, including the USSF-44 and USSF-52 missions for the Space Force, and is launching a Viasat broadband communications satellite and the asteroid explorer Psyche from NASA, both in 2022.
Astrobotic announced in April that a Falcon Heavy rocket will launch its Griffin lander to the moon in 2023 as part of a mission to deliver a NASA water-monitoring rover to the lunar south pole.
A single Falcon Heavy will also launch the first two elements of NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station in 2024, and two Falcon Heavy flights will boost Dragon XL cargo missions to the gateway later in the 2020s.
The Falcon Heavy is made up of three modified Falcon 9 first stage boosters connected together in a three-core configuration. The rocket’s 27 main Merlin engines produce some 5.1 million pounds of lift-off thrust, more than any other currently operational rocket.
All of SpaceX’s currently contracted Falcon Heavy missions will take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the company plans to construct a vertical integration building and shelter to accommodate future Falcon Heavy payloads.
SpaceX will use three newly manufactured boosters for the USSF-44 mission, and the difficult launch profile will not leave any residual propellants to reclaim the central core of the Falcon Heavy, according to the Space Force. The main stage will be devoted to the launch, while the two side boosters of the rocket will be recovered from two SpaceX drones positioned downstream east of Cape Canaveral.
The Falcon Heavy will get more US military launch contracts in the years to come.
Last year, the Space Force announced multi-billion dollar contracts to fly the military’s most critical national security payloads on the United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rockets and SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers. until 2027.
Space News reported on Thursday that the Space Force and ULA have agreed to move the first military mission assigned to a Vulcan Centaur rocket to an Atlas 5 rocket. This mission, designated USSF-51, is expected to launch in 2022.
The first national security launch of the Vulcan Centaur is now scheduled for early 2023 with the USSF-106 mission, Bongiovi said on Wednesday. This flight will follow two certification launches of the Vulcan Centaur rocket carrying commercial payloads.
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