SpaceX has launched its Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, to deliver an experimental mission for the US Department of Defense (DoD).
Falcon Heavy is SpaceX’s most powerful launch vehicle featuring 27 engines.
This is the Falcon Heavy’s third flight so far and the second this year. It is also the first nighttime launch for the vehicle.
It represents the first multi-payload, multi-orbit mission for the Falcon Heavy as the rocket will place 24 separate spacecraft into three separate orbits.
The rocket is tasked with launching the DoD’s Space Test Program-2 mission. The launch serves as a key test of Falcon Heavy’s capabilities for future operational National Security Space missions.
The US Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) is responsible for the management of the space test programme on behalf of the DoD.
STP-2 is the first mission on Falcon Heavy and also the first re-use of launch vehicle flight hardware for the DoD.
The mission involves 24 spacecraft designated for space experiments designed to improve weather forecasting, space environmental monitoring, propulsion, and communications.
These experiments are sponsored by the DoD, Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
The spacecraft will be delivered to three distinct space orbits using multiple launch vehicle upper-stage burns and manoeuvres.
STP-2 includes the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s Demonstration and Science Experiments satellite that is intended to research technologies to improve spacecraft operation in the harsh radiation environment of medium-Earth orbit.
SMC commander and USAF Space programme executive officer lieutenant general John Thompson said: “It’s an exciting partnership with Nasa, NOAA and SpaceX to provide space access for important military and civil experiments while demonstrating the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle capabilities for future operational national security space missions.
“The STP-2 mission exemplifies our SMC 2.0 transformation. We’re pursuing innovative new ways to deliver space capabilities for the airforce and the defence department.”
This mission will act as a test case for the USAF to study SpaceX’s booster recovery and refurbishing process.