SpaceX Plans First-Ever Commercial Falcon Heavy Launch Tonight
It has been more than a year since SpaceX successfully completed the first demo flight of the long-awaited Falcon Heavy, and today could be its first commercial flight. Following a last-minute delay, SpaceX expects to launch the Arabsat-6A from NASA’s historic Pad 39A this evening.
The Falcon Heavy makes use of the highly successful Falcon 9 design — it’s actually composed of three Falcon 9 core stages with a few design tweaks. The standard Falcon 9 still carries the bulk of SpaceX payloads (including the upcoming manned Dragon II), but the company hopes to move all launches to the Starship/Super Heavy platform in the coming years. Until then, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful launch vehicle in the world, which is why Arabsat choose the Falcon Heavy to deploy its 13,200-pound (6,000 kilograms) telecommunications satellite.
SpaceX initially wanted to launch the Arabsat-6A yesterday (April 9), but the weather didn’t permit. The 45th Weather Squadron projects an 80 percent chance of good weather at launch time tonight, currently scheduled for 6:36 PM EDT. The satellite will be deployed about 34 minutes after launch, but it’s those first 34 minutes that will be of most interest to space enthusiasts.
Last year’s Falcon Heavy demo launch sent Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space.
SpaceX says it will land the two side boosters at Landing Zones 1 and 2 (LZ-1 and LZ-2) at Cape Canaveral Air Force, just like it did in last year’s test. After that, SpaceX hopes to land the center stage on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. This part of the demo flight didn’t work out because of a partial engine failure, leading to the booster hitting the ocean at more than 300 miles per hour.
All three cores on the launchpad tonight are newly constructed. SpaceX has high hopes for the recovery of rockets during this launch. The side boosters are already scheduled for re-use in June on another Falcon Heavy flight. That’s the US Air Force’s STP-2 payload, consisting of more than two dozen satellites. SpaceX has not put the Arabsat-6A center stage on the roster for that flight.
You can watch the launch live via the video embed above. The launch window lasts until 8:32 PM EDT, so there’s some wiggle room if the weather is less than ideal. If the launch gets scrubbed again, SpaceX will have another chance on Thursday evening.