Update: SpaceX is now aiming to launch its first Falcon Heavy rocket of 2023 on Sunday, January 15th, at 5:56 PM EST (2256 GMT).
SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket will be back in action Sunday (January 15), and you can watch the takeoff live.
The Falcon Heavy is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida Sunday at 5:56 p.m. EDT (2255 GMT), one day later than previously announced, on a classified US Space Force mission called USSF-67.
Watch it live here at SpaceX.com, courtesy of SpaceX, or directly via the company. We will host the company webcast when the time is right.
Related: Why hasn’t SpaceX launched a Falcon Heavy since 2019?
Sunday’s launch will be the fifth overall for the Falcon Heavy. The powerful rocket debuted in February 2018 with an unforgettable test flight that sent SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster into orbit around the sun, with a spacesuit-clad mannequin named Starman in the driver’s seat.
The Falcon Heavy launched again in April 2019 and June 2019, sending operational satellites aloft each time. But the rocket didn’t take off again until November of last year, on USSF-44 mission for the Space Force. The 40-month gap is primarily due to delays in getting payloads ready for customers, according to space industry analysts.
Like USSF-44, USSF-67 is a classified mission. But we know little about the upcoming flight.
The main payload is a military communications satellite called SATCOM 2, which the Falcon Heavy will send into geostationary orbit, about 22,200 miles (35,700 kilometers) above Earth. Also flying Saturday is a Rideshare spacecraft called Long Duration Propulsive ESPA (LDPE)-3A, a payload converter that can hold up to six small satellites, according to EverydayAstronaut.com. (Opens in a new tab).
The LDPE-3A will carry five Space Force payloads on USSF-67. Among them are “two operational prototypes to enhance situational awareness and an operational prototype cipher/interface cipher payload that provides secure space-to-Earth communications capability,” Space Force officials said in an emailed statement Friday (January 13).
The Falcon Heavy consists of three modified SpaceX Falcon 9 first stages, which are bolted together. The central booster is topped by an upper load bearing stage.
The first stages of the Falcon Heavy are reusable, like those on the Falcon 9. The two side boosters of USSF-67 will be launched a second time; Space Force officials said they also flew USSF-44. The USSF-67 primary booster has never been launched before.
If all goes according to plan, the two side boosters will return to Earth shortly after liftoff on Saturday, making a vertical landing at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, which is located next to KSC. The central booster will not return, instead ditching in the Atlantic Ocean.
USSF-67 is part of a busy week for SpaceX. The company also plans to launch 51 of its Starlink internet satellites into low Earth orbit over the Falcon 9 in Ja. 19. You can watch this assignment here on Space.com, too.
Mike Wall is the author of “Abroad (Opens in a new tab)Book (Major Grand Publishers, 2018; illustration by Carl Tate), a book about the search for aliens. Follow him on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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