After two successful Falcon Heavy missions in less than 11 weeks, launch fans are likely to have to wait until the end of 2020 for SpaceX's next Falcon Heavy flight, unless an unannounced customer has launched a surprise mission.
SpaceX successfully launched Falcon Heavy's previous missions – all successful – and firm launch contracts or contract options for four more Falcon Heavy missions at US Air Force, Viasat and Inmarsat. All missions are expected to launch from the launch pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the only facility in which the fierce Falcon Heavy rocket is stationed.
One of the air force missions called AFSPC-44. is next in line to fly with a Falcon Heavy rocket. The launch of the AFSPC-44 mission is scheduled for fall 2020, said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Start Enterprise Systems Directorate at the Center for Space and Missile Systems of the Air Force.
The Air Force has not identified the payloads on the AFSPC-44 mission that the military assigned to SpaceX's Falcon Heavy in February. Documents released at the call of the military suggest that the launch of AFSPC-44 lofted two payloads into a circular geosynchronous orbit over 22,000 miles above the equator. The combined mass of the two payloads is less than 8,200 Pounds or about 3.7 tons.
A direct injection of the AFSPC-44 satellite into the geosynchronous orbit through the Falcon Heavy missile requires a longer coastal phase of more than five hours of upper stage engine burning. On Falcon Heavy's last mission, which started on Tuesday, the missile's upper stage completed four burns on a Luftwaffe-sponsored demonstration flight over three and a half hours.
The complex orbital maneuvers had to be placed The mission's 24 satellite payloads are spread over three different orbits. They also exercised the capabilities of the Falcon Heavy and its Merlin upper-stage engine before the Air Force entrusted the carrier with more critical and costly payloads for national security on future flights.
The Air Force officially certified the Falcon Heavy after the first flight of the rocket last year to be entitled to win starter contracts for national security. A series of in-depth technical and process-related reviews are currently underway before the military puts a critical national security satellite on a Falcon Heavy.
"What we are doing now is what we call space flight," said Bongiovi A pre-launch teleconference with reporters.
The successful STP-2 mission "brings us one step closer to space flight for the launch of AFSPC-44 in the fall of 2020," said Bongiovi before the start.
The Falcon Heavy deployed in the STP-2 mission flew with reused side amplifiers recovered after the Falcon Heavy's previous launch on April 11, which delivered the commercial Arabsat 6A communications into orbit.
Officials said they would leverage the experience of the STP-2 mission Engage Luftwaffe engineers with SpaceX recovery and reuse procedures to certify previously flown rocket hardware for national security missions. Before the launch of STP-2, all Luftwaffe launches so far with SpaceX used newly built Falcon 9 boosters.
Following the launch of AFSPC-44, the Air Force plans another Falcon Heavy mission with SpaceX in early 2021, Bongiovi said. The launch, known as AFSPC-52, was due to start in September 2020. However, in a meeting with reporters earlier this month, Bongiovi twice stated that the AFSPC-44 mission was the next Falcon Heavy Air Force mission.
When AFSPC-44 was launched, the Air Force did not specify the name or purpose of the payload to be launched on the AFSPC 52 mission.
In an advertising draft published for the AFSPC 52 mission, the Air Force called the required payload a buoyancy capacity of approximately 14,000 pounds or 6,350 kilograms into a geostationary transfer orbit at a height of between 115 miles (185 miles) and 21,865 miles (35,188 kilometers) with a slope of 27 degrees.
Viasat and Inmarsat are the two major telecommunications satellite operators with contracts or options to fly their payloads with a Falcon Heavy missile.
Last year, SpaceX signed a contract with Viasat for the launch of one of the three communications solutions of the next generation satellite broadband provider on a Falcon Heavy. Viasat is developing three new Boeing satellites, known as the ViaSat 3 fleet, to expand the company's broadband Internet coverage around the world. The satellites are based in North and South America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, as well as in the Asia-Pacific region.
Viasat has entered into start-up agreements with SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Arianespace to move a ViaSat 3 satellite to its operational positions in geostationary orbit from 2021 onwards. However, the California broadband company did not announce the order for the ViaSat 3 launches, or which rocket will launch each satellite.
Viasat said the Falcon Heavy would place its satellite "extremely close" in its final position in geostationary orbit using a multi-hour launch profile similar to the one planned for the AFSPC-44 mission.
London-based Inmarsat also has a contract option with SpaceX for a launch of Falcon Heavy. After delays in the Falcon Heavy's first flight, Inmarsat decided to switch the launch of one of its satellites to a Falcon 9 rocket in 2017, but retained the contract option of flying a satellite of a future Falcon Heavy mission.
Inmarsat, whose owner A network of satellites for maritime and aviation communications has not executed the Falcon Heavy contract option. Inmarsat CEO announced in March that one of the company's future satellites – the Airbus-made Inmarsat 6B, scheduled to launch in late 2021, could be a candidate for the company's Falcon Heavy contract option, according to Space News ,
SpaceX has also got another customer recording the launch of a satellite for a Falcon Heavy mission.
The Swedish company Ovzon announced last year the selection of a Falcon Heavy rocket to launch its first geostationary communication satellite into orbit. According to the announcement by Ovzon, the satellite should bring the Falcon Heavy directly into the geostationary orbit.
The Ovzon 3 satellite will be built by Maxar's SSL department, subject to final funding, and is expected to weigh less than one tonne at launch. The relatively low weight of the Ovzon 3 spacecraft suggests that it may not be intended for takeoff and could fly with another payload on the Falcon Heavy.
Several SpaceX missions were announced months in advance, including the launch of the Falcon 9 The US Air Force X-37B spacecraft in September 2017 and the start of the US government's mysterious Zuma payload in January 2018.
Falcon 9's planned launch of a South Korean military communications satellite from Cape Canaveral in November was also unannounced until the beginning of this month.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, announced in May that the company plans between 18 and 21 missions this year, excluding flights on SpaceX's own Starlink broadband satellites.
SpaceX has completed eight missions in the first half, including a Starlink network launch.
Answering a question about Falcon Heavy's next launch of Spaceflight Now, a SpaceX spokesperson, referred to the company's online manifesto, which lists no Falcon Heavy missions with known launch dates prior to the launch of AFSPC-44 in late 2020 are.
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