SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket Launch & NASA: Here’s What You Need to Know

So, if you are a fan of space exploration, NASA, or just science in general, you may have heard the terms SpaceX and Falcon Heavy. If you are a die-hard fan, you may already be following the series of launches that have preceded this one, and you would know a little more than the average bear about their importance to space travel.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket begins its demonstration flight with liftoff from from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA Kennedy A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket begins its demonstration flight with liftoff from from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA Kennedy

However, I found that I needed a bit of a primer for my own understanding on what all of this excitement is about! The terms and things can get a little detailed, and so I hope to help break it down into some digestible bites. Diving a little deeper into these launches, here is some of the information that I have found:

The Upcoming Launch

When: Monday June 24 @ 11:30p

Where: the Historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

What, from the NASA website: This is the first government contracted Falcon Heavy, named STP-2, and it is managed by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. The Department of Defense mission will demonstrate the capabilities of the Falcon Heavy rocket while delivering satellites to multiple orbits around Earth over the course of about six hours. The aim is to demonstrate the rocket’s capability and gain insight into the process of recovering and refurbishing first stage boosters on the Falcon family of rockets. NASA is sending four technology missions that will help improve future spacecraft design and performance into space on the next SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch.

So essentially, NASA and the government are partnering together on this one. Each entity has a set of objectives to fulfill, from delivering satellites and testing the rocket’s capabilities, to getting us ready for future space missions by refining spacecraft design.

More Digestible Bites

Okay, now that we have the mission of this next launch understood, let’s roll it back and get some basic understanding on a few key things about SpaceX and Falcon Heavy. {And just for the sake of being wanting to be accurate with the technical information and details, information in italics is quoted from various articles/press releases from the NASA website.} Here we go!

What is SpaceX?

Founded in 2002, SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft such as the Falcon 9 and Dragon respectively. The company also is the only private enterprise to return a spacecraft from the International Space Station.

What is the Falcon Heavy?

The Falcon heavy is designed and made by SpaceX, and it is a reusable (partially) heavy lift launch vehicle. It comes in second only the powerful and legendary Saturn V rocket with regards to payload capacity and reaching orbit. The Falcon heavy made its very first launch in February 2018. (It was quite memorable because it also carried a Tesla Roadster with a dummy payload.)

Why Kennedy Space Center?

The historic site where American astronauts first launched to the moon was the location of a recent landmark agreement, part of NASA’s continuing process to transform the Kennedy Space Center in Florida into a 21st century spaceport. Agency officials announced they signed a property agreement with SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., for use and operation of Launch Complex (LC) 39A for the next 20 years.

What is NASA’s part in this launch?

The NASA technologies aboard this mission – including a small spacecraft, pair of CubeSats, payload and testbed of instruments – will help better equip and support the agency’s future exploration plans, including returning astronauts to the Moon in five years.

What is NASA sending up in this launch?

{This is the really fascinating stuff here. Admittedly, it gets a little bogged down with the technical jargon, and I had to read each a couple of times myself ☺ Nevertheless, it becomes quickly apparent as to how important each of these tests are to us moving forward in space exploration!}

Four unique NASA technology missions that will help improve future spacecraft design and performance are among the two dozen spacecraft aboard the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission.

1. The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) is NASA’s first attempt to use a new non-toxic fuel and propulsion system in space. The technology replaces conventional chemical propulsion systems and offers simplified prelaunch processing, increased payload mass, enhanced spacecraft maneuverability, and longer mission durations. A successful demonstration of this capability on a Ball Aerospace spacecraft will benefit future missions by providing safer propellant options for spaceflight.

2. The Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment (E-TBEx) explores “bubbles” in the electrically-charged layers of Earth’s upper atmosphere, which can disrupt key communications and GPS signals that we rely on down on the ground. Such bubbles currently appear and evolve unpredictably, making them difficult to characterize from the ground. Increasing our understanding of them will help us prevent the disruption of the many radio signals that pass through Earth’s upper atmosphere.
The two NASA CubeSats on this mission will work in concert with the six satellites of NOAA’s COSMIC-2 mission. Varying orbital positions among the eight spacecraft will give scientists chances to study these bubbles from multiple angles at once.

3. A new kind of atomic clock aims to let spacecraft conduct precise navigation on their own, instead of waiting for trajectory information from Earth. This versatile technology also has science and exploration applications. The Deep Space Atomic Clock can be used to study planetary gravity fields and atmospheres, or could even enable a GPS-like capability on the surface of the Moon. The technology demonstration mission, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is the primary payload on General Atomics’ Orbital Test Bed spacecraft.

4. Space Environment Testbeds (SET) works in the harsh radiation of near-Earth space to gather data on the very nature of space itself, which is constantly shaped by the Sun. Energetic particles can spark sudden computer problems or memory damage in spacecraft, and degrade hardware over time. Hosted on the Air Force Research Lab’s Demonstration and Science Experiments spacecraft and equipped with a space weather monitor and three circuit board experiments, SET will study this space radiation and how it affects instruments. This information can be used to improve spacecraft design, engineering, and operations in order to protect spacecraft and the work they do from harmful radiation.

Reference links:
https://www.nasa.gov/content/nasa-spacex-sign-property-agreement-for-historic-launch-pad

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/falcon-heavy-a-multi-user-spaceport-success-story

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/media-invited-to-spacex-falcon-heavy-launch-of-four-nasa-missions

My Thoughts

All of this sounds amazing. I am intrigued that this is a joint venture. I’m also very interested in learning more about the CubeSats and the Deep Space Atomic Clock especially, as well as their respective roles in the future of space exploration. In addition, I am looking forward to seeing the fascinating reusability of the launch components of this rocket. And a new, clean fuel & propulsion system? I am all for it.

What other news do you have?

I can’t keep it secret any longer: I have the joy of being selected to attend this launch, wooooooo!! I will be there as a guest of #nasasocial. {It was a delight to cover the Moon to Mars event this past spring as well.} It has been a desire of mine to cover an event at KSC, and I am honored to be there for this one.

So, please follow me here and on Twitter and Instagram to catch my coverage of this event on June 22:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/HappyToBeDee

Insta: http://instagram.com/HappyToBDee

I would love to hear your questions that you would like for me to ask the experts while I am there. Please feel free to leave them in the comments below, thanks!

One Reply to “SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket Launch & NASA: Here’s What You Need to Know”

  1. […] Pretty cool! The host, Laura Aguilar, got the show started, and we got to hear from each team from four of the missions that Nasa was sending up on the Falcon Heavy. Each team took time to answer a couple of our questions after they presented. I especially enjoyed […]

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