SpaceX launches ViaSat-3 via Falcon Heavy
April 28 at 7:29 pm E.T. from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center
As the summer months begin in Florida, so does thunderstorm season. For the last two attempts SpaceX was forced to stand down from launching the ViaSat-3 mission due to severe weather. Thursday April 17 the lightning arrestor took a direct hit from a bolt right around the time which lift off was planned to occur. This, sixth flight of the Falcon Heavy was originally slated for April 18, but was delayed after the static fire test, resulting in two engines having to be replaced. Standing “naked” on the pad, this Falcon Heavy sits with no grid fins, or landing legs as all three core boosters will be expended during the mission. This launch will test their system as it’s the heaviest payload to date, meaning that extra fuel will be needed to get to orbit rather than land the boosters safely back on Earth.
The core booster, B1068 is brand new, but side boosters B1052, and B1053 have each been flown previously. Seven times before for B1052, and two times previously for B1053. This leaves the rocket looking almost frankensteinish out on the pad with some being clean and others being various shades of grey/black from the previous flights. In September of last year B1052 flew the Starlink 4-20 mission and was then converted back into a FH side booster for its now final flight while B1053 has not flown since the STP-2 mission back in June of 2019. The core booster B1068, was manufactured to solely be a Falcon heavy core, meaning this is its first, and last flight.
The primary payload on this flight is the ViaSat-3 Americas satellite, a first of three new geostationary communications satellites intended to provide continuous near global broadband service to roughly ninety-nine percent of the world’s population. Weighing roughly 6,000 kilograms, these satellites will deploy some of the largest reflectors ever flown. These are made of carbon fiber and reinforced polymers with graphite and will be deployed at the end of a boom similar to the one deployed from the James Webb Space Telescope’s sunshade. It will also have eight solar panels that can collectively generate twenty-five kilowatts of power, making this one of the highest power generating capabilities ever on a communications satellite.
Also, along for the ride are two smaller satellites which will be going into a geostationary orbit as well. The Arcturus satellite has a mass of 400kg and was built by Astranis to provide broadband services to the state of Alaska for Pacific DataPort. Known also has Aurora 4A, this is the first commercial satellite to be launched for Astranis, and has a designed lifespan of ten years.
The final payload is the G-Space 1 satellite, a 16U CubeSat built by the Danish company Gravity Space. Weighing a total of 22 kg it is designed to support communication services for the internet of things and contains several payloads for support of future missions.
Today’s launch was the first of three already planned Falcon Heavy missions this year. Next will be the USSF-52 mission slated for no earlier than June 25, and the PSYCHE mission which was delayed last year due to some software difficulties will launch no earlier than October 5 of this year.
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