SpaceX is planning two Falcon Heavy launches this year for the U.S. space force in July and October, and the United Launch Alliance has four national security space missions on its 2021 schedule, according to a military spokesman.
The Falcon Heavy missions are expected to be the fourth and fifth flights of SpaceX’s triple-core heavy lifts. Both launches start from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The first spaceflight mission on a Falcon Heavy rocket this year is called USSF-44. The mission is scheduled for launch in July, according to a spokesman for the Space Force. The USSF-44 mission will be the fourth flight of a Falcon Heavy since its debut in February 2018.
Falcon Heavy will deliver multiple military payloads to a high-altitude geosynchronous circuit on the USSF-44 mission. The upper stage of the rocket will shoot several times to place the satellites in position more than 22,000 miles above the equator.
The top-stage flight profile will include a coastline that lasts more than five hours between incinerations, making the USSF-44 mission one of SpaceX’s most demanding launches yet.
On it recent Falcon Heavy mission, which took off in June 2019, the upper phase of the rocket completed four burns in the course of three and a half hours on a demonstration flight sponsored by the Air Force.
The complex orbital maneuvers during the mission last June were required to place 24 satellite payloads in three different orbits. They also exercised the capabilities of the Falcon Heavy and its Merlin engine at the top stage before the Air Force hands over the launcher with more critical and more expensive operational national safety payloads on future flights, such as the USSF-44 mission.
SpaceX won a contract for the USSF-44 launch in February 2019. In its request for proposals for the USSF-44 launch, the military told potential launch providers to assume that the total mass of two payloads assigned to the mission is less than 8,200 pounds, or about 3 pounds. , 7 tons.
The spacecraft has not said whether there are still two satellites reserved on the USSF-44 mission, or whether officials added more secondary payloads since the contract price in 2019. One of the spacecraft at the launch of the USSF-44 is a microsatellite named TETRA 1 built of Millennium Space Systems, a subsidiary of Boeing headquartered in El Segundo, California.
Military officials said in a statement that the TETRA 1 satellite was set up for “prototype missions and tactics, techniques and procedures in and around geosynchronous Earth orbit.”
Another military launch on the Falcon Heavy, designated USSF-52, is scheduled for October at the earliest, according to the Space Force. Military officials have not revealed any payload at the USSF-52 launch, but the Air Force wrote in a draft contract request that the mission would deliver a heavy payload to a geostationary transmission path, a long path around the Earth used as a delivery point for many satellites en route to a circular geosynchronous orbit.
SpaceX has so far launched three Falcon Heavy rocket missions, all with success. SpaceX has seven confirmed Falcon Heavy missions in its aftermath, including the two Space Force missions this year, and launches of a Viasat broadband communications satellite and NASA’s Psyche asteroid explorer, both in 2022. A single Falcon Heavy will also launch the first two elements of NASA’s Gateway lunar station in 2024 and two Falcon Heavy aircraft will increase Dragon XL cargo missions to Gateway later in the 2020s.
The Space Force’s USSF-67 mission assigned to SpaceX last year may also launch on a Falcon Heavy. But military officials have not confirmed a rocket mission to this mission.
The Falcon Heavy consists of three modified Falcon 9 first-time boosters connected together in a triple-core configuration. The rocket’s 27 Merlin main engines produce about 5.1 million pounds of stack at liftoff, more than any other currently operational rocket.
All of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy missions, which are currently under contract, start from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the company plans to build a vertical integration building and shelter to meet future Falcon Heavy payloads.
SpaceX will use three newly produced boosters for the USSF-44 mission, and the challenging launch profile leaves no remaining propellant to reclaim the central core of the Falcon Heavy, according to the Space Force. The core stage will be expanded at launch, while the rocket’s two side amplifiers will be restored on two SpaceX drone ships located downward east of Cape Canaveral.
SpaceX has yet another publicly announced Space Force mission in its aftermath this year. A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in July with the military’s fifth GPS 3-series navigation satellite. The launch of the sixth GPS 3 satellite, also on a Falcon 9, has been delayed by 2022, the Space Force said.
The United Launch Alliance has four military space missions planned this year.
A Delta 4-Heavy rocket, ULA’s most powerful launch vehicle, is being prepared for liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as early as this spring with a classified spy satellite cargo to the National Reconnaissance Office. The NROL-82 mission is one of four Delta 4-Heavy flights left before the rocket’s retirement in 2023.
Three Space Force missions will launch this year on ULA Atlas 5 rockets from Cape Canaveral.
The first of the Space Force launches, called the STP-3, was due to launch this month. An Atlas 5 rocket will launch two experimental geosynchronous military satellites on the STP-3 mission, but one of the spacecraft encountered delays it made it miss its launch date in late February.
Officials are assessing new potential launch dates mid-year, according to Jim Reuter, head of NASA’s Directorate of Space Technology Mission, which is flying a laser communications experiment on the STP-3 mission.
The STP-3 mission uses the most powerful variant of the Atlas 5 rocket, known as the “551” configuration, with five fixed solid rocket amplifiers and a payload screen 5 meters in diameter.
In the May time frame, an Atlas 5 rocket is scheduled to launch with the Space Force’s fifth Space-Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, satellite to detect missile launchers that could threaten the United States. The Lockheed Martin-built SBIRS GEO 5 satellite orbits an Atlas 5 “421” with a 4 meter diameter payload curve and two solid rocket amplifiers.
Another Atlas 5 is scheduled to launch in August with the USSF-8 mission, which will deliver the Space Force’s fifth and sixth Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, satellites in orbit.
The USSF-8 mission will use the Atlas 5-511 configuration with a 5-meter sheath and a single solid rocket amplifier. It will be ffirst time “511” variant of Atlas 5 has been flown.
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