Photo: Ryan Bale
Tonight SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has launched for the third time, but on this Florida night there was a new milestone hit for this beast of a rocket. At 2:30 AM EST, three hours after the opening of the launch window, the Falcon Heavy had its first night launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
On board this mission for the Department of Defense are 24 satellites for their first ever mission with a Falcon Heavy. According to SpaceX’s briefing on the launch, “the [Space Test Programs-2] launch will be among the most challenging launch in SpaceX history with four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of over six hours”.
Photo: Richard Angle
The side boosters on tonight’s Falcon Heavy rocket are actually reused from the Arabsat-6A launch in April. Though reusing rockets is one of the things SpaceX is known for, this will be the first time the Air Force has reused a Falcon Heavy. This will give SpaceX the opportunity to learn more about what procedures need to take place in order to reuse these particular boosters.
Aside from studying the reuse of the boosters, one of the payloads on board this mission is the Lightsail-2 spacecraft from The Planetary Society. They hope this will be the first ever spacecraft powered by solar energy. Once deployed, it will expand to the size of a boxing ring and begin its journey throughout space. The CEO of The Planetary Society, the one and only Bill Nye (the science guy) spoke of his fascination with solar energy in an interview with several reporters at Cocoa Beach, “‘I've believed in solar sailing all this time, it's just a fantastic technology. Frankly, guys, it's romantic. And it's just like a sailing ship except it's in the cosmic ocean’”.