According to NASASpaceflight.com, SpaceX is only about 48 hours away from Falcon Heavy Flight 3, which briefly detonates all 27 of the rocket's Merlin 1D engines.
If the routine test proceeds as planned, the third completed SpaceX Falcon Heavy can start on June 24 at 23:30 CET (03:30 UTC). The massive rocket will feature the US Air Force's Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission, a collection of 24 small satellites from various US government agencies and academic institutions. In practice, STP is often more of a constructive start-up excuse involving satellites and customers who are willing to take more risk than more valuable payloads. This greatly facilitates the certification of new technologies and new commercial launch vehicles to the US military.
As discussed at Teslarati, STP-2 is a very ambitious mission aimed at simultaneously certifying critical capabilities or paving the way for certification. First and foremost, it will provide the US military (subject to severe anomalies) with the data needed to certify the Falcon Heavy SpaceX missile for all national defense launches. This makes the Delta IV Heavy from ULA the first real competition in a decade and a half.
Under the umbrella of this catch-all certification, there is a kind of torture test validation of the long-range capacity of the SpaceX Advanced Falcon. To successfully complete STP-2, the upper tier undergoes "four separate upper-tier burns, three separate orbits, one final passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of more than six hours" It will likely be the most technically demanding launch of SpaceX of all time.
Finally, the US Air Force has decided that STP-2 is an excellent opportunity to initiate the process of certification of ground-ready SpaceX missiles for military launches. The STP-2 related work is more a preliminary work for the USAF to find out how to certify flight-proven commercial missiles, but it will still be the first time a special US military mission is deployed flown on a flight-tested launcher. The processes, some of which have been established thanks to STP-2 and Falcon Heavy, can also apply to intake rockets such as New Glenn from Blue Origin and ULA's "SMART" concept for reuse by Vulcan.
However, it is unlikely that New Glenn will be ready for pilot-ready military launches until the mid-2020s, while ULA does not even intend to attempt the reuse of Vulcan's "SMART" until ~ 2026, meaning that military certification is likely will not come until 2028-2030 at the earliest. SpaceX will be the only US-based launch provider in about half a decade to offer certified, flight-proven hardware with proven reliability. Although the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) had a lone start with the launch of PSN-6 and the SpaceX GTO-1 mission in February 2019, STP-2 is the first time a dedicated Defense Department mission has become a pilot-proof launch has flown vehicle hardware since 1992 (STS-53).
In addition to the flight-proven side amplifiers B1052 and B1053 from Falcon Heavy, a new center-core B1057 is expected for STP-2, SpaceX is in late-stage vehicle integration and was scheduled for release on Monday 17th. June, be almost complete to support a static fire on June 18. The specific static firing ster is not public yet, but Falcon Heavy is expected to roll out on Pad 39A at least 12 hours earlier.
Teslarati photographers Tom Cross and Pauline Acalin will both be on-site to record SpaceX's third Falcon Heavy before, during and after take-off. STP-2 is Falcon Heavy's first night launch attempt. Stay up to date as we approach T-0!
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