Featured Image: SpaceX
Lift Off Time
May 1, 2023 00:26 UTC
April 30, 2023 20:26 EDT
ViaSat-3 Americas and Arcturus
(What rocket company launched it?)
(Who paid for this?)
Astranis Space Technologies and ViaSat
Falcon Heavy; B1052-8 (MY), B1053-3 (PY), B1068-1 (center). Turnaround time 237.93, 1,405.75, and N/A days, respectively
LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA
6,700 kg (15,000 lb)
Where did the satellites go?
Geostationary Earth orbit
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
Where did the first stage land?
All three boosters crashed into the Atlantic Ocean
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
Yes, Doug attempted to recover the fairing halves ~1,960 km downrange
Were these fairings new?
This was the:
– 2nd launch of Falcon Heavy in 2023
– 29th mission for SpaceX in 2023
– 6th Falcon Heavy mission ever
– 64th orbital launch attempt of 2023
– Furthest fairing recovery attempt at 1,960 km (previous record: 1,537 km on USSF-67)
– Longest turnaround time of a Falcon core ever at 1,405.75 days (previous slowest: 951.70)
Where to watch
How Did It Go?
For the second time in 2023, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Unlike the previous Falcon Heavy launch, which featured the landing of the two side boosters back on land, this Falcon Heavy was fully expended, meaning none of the three boosters will be recovered.
Additionally, the two side boosters performed a reentry test after separation. Unlike other missions to geostationary orbit, the Falcon Heavy second stage performed a direct insertion. This is contrary to other missions where the satellite performs a burn to get into it’s required orbit.
What’s On Board?
Marking the sixth Falcon Heavy mission, SpaceX launched three payloads, one significantly heavier than the others. The 6,400 kg (14,000 lb) ViaSat-3 Americas satellite has two smaller companions riding along side called Arcturus, which only weighs 300 kg (660 lb), and G-Space 1, which host multiple payloads and weighs 22 kg (49 lb). All 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 per user 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.
G-Space 1 is a platform that is hosting multiple payloads such as Earth observing, communications, and scientific experiments. One example, is the Nusantara H-1A payload which is acting as a placeholder for the delayed Indonesian communications satellite. It will test out the different frequency bands that are planned to be used on the full-service satellite.
Developed by Infinite Orbits, another payload called Orbit Guard will host newly developed technology and machine-learning algorithms to track Resident Space Objects.
Being small and lightweight satellites means that onboard propulsion options are limited. This is the main reason why Astranis and G-Space 1 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.
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.