According to NASASpaceflight.com, SpaceX is only 48 hours away from the Falcon Heavy Volcant 3 static fire test, in which the 27 Merlin 1D rocket engines will be briefly lit.
If routine testing goes according to plan, the third completed SpaceX Falcon Heavy will be ready to take off at 11:30 pm ET (03:30 UTC) on June 24th. At the top of the gigantic rocket will be the US Air Force's STP-2 (Space Test Program-2) mission, a collection of 24 small satellites from various government and academic agencies. In practical terms, STP is often a more technical excuse for launching systems involving satellites and customers willing to accept higher risk than more valuable payloads, making it easier for US forces to certify new technologies and new ones. commercial launchers.
As previously discussed on Teslarati, STP-2 is an extremely ambitious mission that aims at both certifying or paving the way for certification of critical capabilities. First, it will give (except for serious anomalies) to the US military the necessary data to certify SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket for all national defense launches, thus giving ULA's Delta IV Heavy its first real contest since decade and a half.
This catch-all certification includes a sort of capacity torture test on the long coastline of SpaceX's Falcon upper floor. To carry out the STP-2, the upper floor will be subject to "Four separate upper-stage engines, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of more than six hours." This will probably be the most challenging launch of SpaceX on a technical level.
Finally, the US Air Force decided that STP-2 was an excellent opportunity to begin the process of certifying SpaceX flight-tested rockets for military launches. Work related to STP-2 is more of a preliminary effort by USAF to understand How certifying commercially proven rockets in flight, but it will always be the first time that a dedicated US military mission will fly on a proven launcher in flight. Eventually, the processes put in place, thanks in part to STP-2 and Falcon Heavy, could also be applied to ambitious rockets such as New Origin, Glenn from Blue Origin, and ULA's "SMART" concept for reuse of Vulcan.
Still, it is unlikely that New Glenn will be ready for proven military launches before the mid-2020s, while ULA does not intend to even attempt to implement the reuse Vulcan's "SMART" until ~ 2026, which means that military certification probably will not come until 2028-2030 at the earliest. As a result, SpaceX has spent about half a decade becoming the only viable US launch vehicle supplier to offer certified, proven flight equipment with proven reliability. Although the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) participated in the launch of the PSN-6 mission by SpaceX in February 2019 and Spaceflight's GTO-1 mission, STP-2 will be the first time that a Dedicated Department of Defense mission will have proved its worth. Vehicle equipment since 1992 (STS-53).
In addition to the Falcon Heavy side boosters tested in flight B1052 and B1053, the STP-2 is expected to use a new central core, the B1057. SpaceX is in the final stages of vehicle integration and is expected to be near completion by Monday, June 17 to withstand a static fire on June 18th. The specific static fire window is not yet public, but Falcon Heavy will likely be deployed on Pad 39A no less than 12 hours ago.
Teslarati photographers Tom Cross and Pauline Acalin will both be on site with a host of remote cameras to capture SpaceX's third Falcon Heavy before, during and after takeoff. STP-2 will be Falcon Heavy's first nighttime launch attempt. Stay tuned for updates as T-0 approaches!
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