KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – SpaceX has again delayed the next Falcon Heavy launch of the space shuttle’s secretive fourth-sized spacecraft, pushing it back a day for weather.
“Standing down from tonight’s Falcon Heavy launch due to ground side issue; The vehicle and payload will be healthy,” SpaceX posted on X less than an hour before Monday’s scheduled liftoff. “The team is resetting for the USSF-52 mission’s next launch opportunity, which is no earlier than tomorrow night.”
If it tries to launch Tuesday night, it will be during a 10-minute window that opens at 8:14 p.m. from KSC’s launch pad 39-A. The weather team of space launch Delta 45 predicted a 60% chance of good conditions.
Falcon Heavy, making only its ninth launch, is essentially three Falcon 9 rockets strung together to produce 5.1 million pounds of thrust upon liftoff, the most powerful rocket available for conventional missiles.
Both side boosters are making their fifth mission and will attempt recovery landings at Landing Zones 1 and 2 of the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. As they return after lift off, many people on the Space Coast get a double sonic boom for each booster. The screams of the house were heard deep into central Florida.
The rocket’s payload is a secret X-37B orbital test vehicle developed by Boeing. Resembling a miniature space shuttle, it first flew into space in 2010 and is now on its seventh mission. Each task, the vehicle has long duration tasks. Its sixth mission, which ended last November at the former shuttle landing facility at KSC, lasted nearly 909 days.
To date, the spacecraft has traveled more than 1.3 billion miles and spent more than 3,774 days in space.
Previous launches have used Atlas V or Falcon 9 rockets for liftoff, but the Falcon Heavy’s power may be a factor in the latest mission for the spacecraft, which is heading toward “new orbital regimes.”
“We are excited to expand the capabilities of the reusable X-37B using the flight-proven service module and the Falcon Heavy rocket to fly many sophisticated tests for the Air Force and its partners,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritsen, X-37B Program Director.
That includes NASA, which is on board for an experiment called SEEDS-2, which will expose plant seeds to intense radiation during long-duration flight. This comes in line with NASA’s efforts to prepare humans for missions to Mars and beyond.
What else the X-37B does in space and where it flies remains largely classified, but Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, chief of the Space Force’s space operations, called the tests “fundamental.”
“The X-37B continues to equip the United States with the knowledge to improve current and future space operations,” he said. “X-37B Mission 7 demonstrates the USSF’s commitment to innovation and defining the art of the possible in the space domain.”
For the record, the Space Force says the spacecraft’s test technologies for domain awareness are “integral to ensuring safe, stable, and secure operations in space for all users of the domain.”
USSF-52 marks the Falcon Heavy’s third mission for the Space Force, all in less than a year.
The rocket first flew in 2018, sending Elon Musk’s Tesla on a mission past Mars. It flew just twice more in 2019, before taking a hiatus of more than three years, but continued to launch last fall with SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy mission. That will be followed by four more missions in 2024 — another Space Force launch, two commercial satellite launches and the first for NASA last October, when it sent the Psych probe on its six-year mission to explore a metallic asteroid. .
For this fifth flight in 2023, the Space Force’s Assured Access to Space program leader, Brig. Gen. Christine Bunsenhagen is based at Patrick Space Force Base and is also in charge of Space Launch Delta 45 and the Eastern Range.
“Our team has done an amazing job preparing for this important launch, and we’re doing even more behind the scenes,” he said. “We are improving our processes to make our launch capabilities even more responsive to national security needs. We are making our space platforms more resilient to ensure that our ability to sustain capabilities in orbit is never diminished.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 set for launch at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 and the United Launch Alliance rolled up its new Vulcan Centaur. Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 41 for a wetsuit rehearsal ahead of its upcoming launch.
Although the Vulcan isn’t scheduled to launch until at least December 24, SpaceX could launch as early as Monday night.
In what will be the 69th launch of the year, the Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in a four-hour window between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Tuesday. That mission was another Starlink flight. Along with 23 more Internet satellites from SpaceX.