Featured Image: SpaceX
Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)
April 18, 2023 – 23:38 UTC | 19:38 EDT
ViaSat-3 Americas and Arcturus
(What rocket company is launching it?)
(Who’s paying for this?)
Astranis Space Technologies and ViaSat
LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA
6,700 kg (15,000 lb)
Where are the satellites going?
Geostationary Earth orbit
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Where will the first stage land?
All three boosters will crash into the ocean
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
Are these fairings new?
How’s the weather looking?
This will be the:
– 2nd launch of Falcon Heavy in 2023
– 26th mission for SpaceX in 2023
– 6th Falcon Heavy mission ever
– 60th orbital launch attempt of 2023
Where to watch
What’s All This Mean?
For the second time in 2023, SpaceX will launch the Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Unlike the last Falcon Heavy launch, which featured the landing of the two side boosters back on land, this Falcon Heavy will be fully expended, meaning none of the three boosters will be recovered.
What’s On Board?
Marking the sixth Falcon Heavy mission, SpaceX will launch two payloads, one significantly heavier than the other. The 6,400 kg (14,000 lb) ViaSat-3 Americas satellite will have a smaller companion riding along side called Arcturus, which only weights 300 kg (660 lb). Both of these satellites will be placed into a geostationary Earth orbit.
ViaSat-3 Americas is a massive satellite built by Boeing in California. It shares similar characteristics to the ViaSat-2 satellites launched in June of 2017. The satellites payload is built by ViaSat and integrated onto Boeing’s payload module and the 702 satellite platform. ViaSat-3 Americas is the first of three satellites which will make up the ViaSat-3 constellation.
A wide variety of customers will use the ViaSat-3 constellation including individual homes, businesses, and government agencies. The system can accommodate more than 100 Mbps across the target region. ViaSat-3 Americas, as the name suggests, will serve North and South America.
The ride-along satellite to ViaSat-3 Americas is Arcturus, a much smaller but very capable satellite that will also be placed in geostationary Earth orbit. Although it only weighs 300 kg, the mighty communications satellite has the ability to provide data throughput up to 7.5 Gbps for the Alaska and the surrounding region.
Arcturus was built by Astranis Space Technologies, who will also own and operate the satellite. One of the satellites main customers is Pacific Dataport.
Being a small and lightweight satellite means that onboard propulsion options are limited. This is the main reason why Astranis chose to launch on a Falcon Heavy, because it can provide direct and precise orbit insertion to geostationary Earth orbit. All the while, acting as a passenger to the much larger ViaSat-3 Americas satellite.
What Is Falcon Heavy?
The Falcon Heavy is SpaceX’s partially reusable two-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle. The vehicle consists of two reusable side boosters, a reusable center core, an expendable second stage, and a pair of reusable fairing halves.
The Falcon Heavy first stage contains 27 Merlin 1D+ sea level engines. Each booster contains nine engines, which use an open gas generator cycle and run on RP-1 and liquid oxygen (LOx). Each engine produces 845 kN of thrust at sea level, with a specific impulse (ISP) of 285 seconds, and 934 kN in a vacuum with an ISP of 313 seconds. Compared to a normal Falcon 9 Block 5, Falcon Heavy’s first stage consists of two side boosters and a center core, with the side boosters basically being Falcon 9 boosters with a nose cone on top instead of an interstage. The center core on the other hand is a more modified booster equipped with a booster separation system and modified to handle the increased loads of three boosters.
The Merlin engines are ignited by triethylaluminum and triethylborane (TEA-TEB), which instantaneously burst into flames when mixed in the presence of oxygen. During static fire and launch the TEA-TEB is provided by the ground service equipment. However, as the Falcon Heavy first stage boosters are able to propulsively land using three of the Merlin engines (E1, E5, and E9), which contain TEA-TEB canisters to relight for the boost back, reentry, and landing burns.
The Falcon Heavy second stage is the same as a Falcon 9 version. It contains a singular MVacD engine that produces 992 kN of thrust and an ISP of 348 seconds. The second stage is capable of doing several burns, allowing Falcon Heavy to put payloads in several different orbits.
On this missions, the second stage is equipped with the MEK (mission extension kit) that allows it to support missions with many burns and/or long coasts between burns. This package can have a gray strip, which helps keep the RP-1 warm, an increased number of composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) for pressurization control, and additional TEA-TEB for multiple re-lights of the MVacD engine.
Falcon Heavy Boosters
The boosters supporting the ViaSat-3 Americas/Arcturus mission are B1052, B1053, and B1068, which, in case of the two side boosters, have supported multiple missions prior. Hence, their designation for this mission is B1052-7, B1053-2, This is the first flight for B1068-1. None of the boosters will be recovered.
B1052’s missionsLaunch Date (UTC)Turnaround Time (Days)Arabsat-6AApril 11, 2019 – 22:35N/ASTP-2June 25, 2019 – 06:3074CSG-2January 31, 2022 – 23:11951Starlink Group 4-10March 09, 2022 – 13:4537Starlink Group 4-18May 18, 2022 – 10:5969KPLOAugust 04, 2022 – 23:0878Starlink Group 4-20 and VarunaSeptember 05, 2022 – 02:0931
B1053’s missionsLaunch Date (UTC)Turnaround Time (Days)Arabsat-6AApril 11, 2019 – 22:35N/ASTP-2June 25, 2019 – 06:3074
Following booster separation, the Falcon Heavy boosters will crash into the ocean and not be recovered.So, there will be no booster landings.
Falcon Heavy Fairings
The Falcon Heavy’s fairing consists of two dissimilar reusable halves. The first half (the half that faces away from the transport erector) is called the active half, and houses the pneumatics for the separation system. The other fairing half is called the passive half. As the name implies, this half plays a purely passive role in the fairing separation process, as it relies on the pneumatics from the active half.
Both fairing halves are equipped with cold gas thrusters and a parafoil which are used to softly touch down the fairing half in the ocean. SpaceX used to attempt to catch the fairing halves, however, at the end of 2020 this program was canceled due to safety risks and a low success rate. On Via-Sat-3 Americas, it is currently unknown if SpaceX will attempt to recover the fairing halves from the water and if so with which vessel.
In 2021, SpaceX started flying a new version of the Falcon fairing. The new “upgraded” version has vents only at the top of each fairing half, by the gap between the halves, whereas the old version had vents placed spread equidistantly around the base of the fairing. Moving the vents decreases the chance of water getting into the fairing, making the chance of a successful scoop significantly higher.
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