The Falcon Heavy megarocket, the most powerful booster now in use, is set to launch the Arabsat-6A communications satelliteinto orbit from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today at 6:35 p.m. EDT (2235 GMT). According to the US Air Force, an agreement was reached with SpaceX to use the opportunity - an intentionally low-risk mission known as Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) - to gain a much higher-fidelity understanding of how SpaceX launches, lands, refurbishes, and relaunches Falcon boosters.
Following Wednesday's launch, SpaceX will attempt to simultaneously return the two side boosters to landing pads and land the center core on a drone ship. It has three rocket boosters, which are strapped together during launch and are created to then break apart and make pinpoint landings back on Earth. Falcon Heavy is taller than the shuttle launch rocket was, but carries a little less thrust or power. Saudi Arabia's Arabsat is expecting its Lockheed Martin-built commercial communications satellite to stay in geostationary orbit for up to 15 years. Last year's initial Falcon Heavy launch became spectacle thanks in part to its test payload consisting of Musk's cherry-red Tesla Roadster with a mannequin passenger, dubbed Starman, sitting in the driver's seat.
But in the 14 months since the large rocket's inaugural flight, Falcon Heavy has had a remarkable effect on the nation's space policy. At the time, no one was quite sure how SpaceX would market the world's most powerful rocket, which did not seem to fit particularly well into any niche, especially after the company's own Falcon 9 rocket saw significant performance increases.
"Arabsat-6A is a high-capacity telecommunications satellite that will deliver television, radio, Internet and mobile communications to customers in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe", SpaceX representatives wrote in a mission description.
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The first Block 5 version of Falcon Heavy prepares for its launch debut. That might be an improved heat shield structure or just a manufacturing vestige that would tear off when the rocket reenters the atmosphere.
SpaceX Falcon Heavy is ready launch from Florida's Space Coast on Wednesday, April 10.
But the third booster of that mission missed the drone ship and crash-landed into the Atlantic at 300 miles per hour. That booster ran out of ignition fluid and couldn't restart its engines for the final landing burn, instead plummeting into the sea.
It's a repeat effort from a February 2018 test mission of the Falcon Heavy that saw two boosters land almost simultaneously.