- SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, plans to launch Falcon Heavy for the second time on Thursday.
- Falcon Heavy, a three-booster vehicle, is currently the world’s most powerful operational rocket.
- Instead of a Tesla electric car destined for deep-space, Falcon Heavy will try launching its first commercial payload: a satellite called Arabsat-6A.
- SpaceX is broadcasting live video of its launch attempt on YouTube starting around 6:15 p.m. EDT.
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SpaceX’s behemoth Falcon Heavy rocket will attempt to go commercial on Thursday with the launch of Arabsat-6A, and you can watch the historic launch live online.
Falcon Heavy stands about 230 feet tall and is the world’s most powerful operational rocket. The vehicle lifted off the first time on February 6, 2018, propelling one of company founder Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster electric cars beyond the orbit of Mars.
"Life cannot just be about solving one sad problem after another," Musk said after the experimental launch. "There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity. That is why we did it. We did for you."
The launch was also a $500 million advertisement: SpaceX proved that its powerful new three-booster launch vehicle worked, attracting a suite of customers that included the Department of Defense and the Arab Satellite Communications Organization, or Arabsat — a Saudi Arabian satellite operator.
Arabsat-6A is a roughly 13,200-pound satellite built by Lockheed Martin. It’s designed to "deliver television, radio, Internet, and mobile communications to customers in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe," according to a SpaceX press kit.
The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday night, but high-altitude shear winds, which can blow at more than 100 mph, proved too much of a risk to the rocket. (Musk has previously said shear winds can hit a rocket "like a sledgehammer" while it’s traveling at supersonic speeds.)
Weather conditions for Thursday evening are apparently looking up, though.
"All systems and weather are currently go ahead of tonight’s Falcon Heavy launch of Arabsat-6A from Pad 39A; launch window opens at 6:35 p.m. EDT," the company tweeted on Thursday.
Watch Falcon Heavy’s second launch live via YouTube
SpaceX plans to broadcast live footage of its launch attempt with expert commentary starting at around 6:15 p.m. EDT.
The rocket has a chance to launch any time between 6:35 p.m. and 8:31 p.m. EDT.
SpaceX hopes to land Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters, or lower stages, back on land at Cape Canaveral, Florida, just a few miles from the launchpad. The central or core booster will attempt to self-land in the Atlantic Ocean upon a barge-like drone ship called "Of Course I Still Love You."
If SpaceX can capture all three 16-story boosters, it could recoup tens of millions of dollars in hardware and reuse them for future launches.
Once the rocket lifts off, it’s just the start of the mission. The Falcon Heavy’s upper stage is supposed to deliver Arabsat-6A into geostationary orbit, which is about 22,300 miles above the surface of Earth. It will take about 34 minutes for the satellite to reach this point, and for SpaceX to deploy it from the upper stage.
Below is SpaceX’s complete list of what to expect and when from the launch.
Minutes relative to liftoff time are on the left, and the related launch event description is on the right:
Events before Falcon Heavy lifts off:
- -53:00 — SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load
- -50:00 — 1st stage RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading begins
- -45:00 — 1st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading begins
- -35:00 — 2nd stage RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading begins
- -18:30 — 2nd stage LOX loading begins
- -07:00 — Falcon Heavy begins pre-launch engine chill
- -01:30 — Flight computer commanded to begin final pre-launch checks
- -01:00 — Propellant tanks pressurize for flight
- -00:45 — SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
- -00:02 — Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
- -00:00 — Falcon Heavy liftoff
Events after liftoff:
- 01:09 — Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
- 02:30 — Booster engine cutoff (BECO)
- 02:34 — Side boosters separate from center core
- 02:51 — Side boosters begin boostback burn
- 03:31 — Center core engine shutdown/main engine cutoff (MECO)
- 03:35 — Center core and 2nd stage separate
- 03:42 — 2nd stage engine starts
- 04:07 — Fairing deployment
- 06:11 — Side boosters begin entry burn
- 07:00 — Center core begins entry burn
- 07:51 — Side booster landings
- 08:48 — 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
- 09:48 — Center core landing
- 27:34 — 2nd stage engine restarts
- 29:00 — 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
- 34:02 — Arabsat-6A satellite deployment
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