SpaceX customer reaffirms third Falcon Heavy mission’s Q2 2019 launch target



Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSO) has established a Q2 2019 launch goal for SpaceX’s third-ever Falcon Heavy mission, a US Air Force-sponsored evaluation launch opportunity known as Space Test Program 2 (STP-2).

Set to host roughly two dozen customer spacecraft, among the biggest and most monetarily significant copassengers riding on STP-2 is Formosat-7, also a six-satellite Earth sensing constellation built with the cooperation of Taiwan’s NSO and the United States’ NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for about $105M. If successfully launched, Formosat-7 will dramatically expand Taiwan’s domestic Earth monitoring and weather forecasting capabilities, important for a country at high risk of typhoons and flooding rains.

Formosat-7, the latest creation of this show, is collectively manufactured by #Taiwan’s National Space Organization along with the #US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration following an agreement authorized in 2010.

— Asia Times (@asiatimesonline) January 7, 2019

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Although Taiwan officials were not able to supply a goal more unique than Q2 2019 (April to June)it’s known by way of NASA remarks and resources inside SpaceX that STP-2’s tentative launch goal currently stands in April. For quite a few reasons, odds are high that that ambitious launch goal will slip into May or June. Especially, the simple truth that Falcon Heavy’s following two starts (Arabsat 6A and STP-2) are scheduled over only a few months of each other almost singlehandedly wipes out any risk that both Heavy launches will feature all-new side and center boosters, strongly suggesting that whichever mission flies second will soon be launch on three flight-proven boosters.

Falcon Heavy’s first static flame, Feb. 2018. (SpaceX)

To further ramp up the difficulty (and improbability), these 3 flight-proven Block 5 boosters would need to start as an incorporated Falcon Heavy, safely land (two by landing zone, just one by firing ship), be transported to SpaceX centers, and eventually be refurbished and reintegrated for their second launch in no longer than 30 to 120 days from begin to finish. SpaceX’s listing for Falcon 9 booster turnaround (time between two starts ) currently stands at 72 times for Block 4 components and 74 times for Block 5, which means that the company could effectively have to simultaneously break its booster record three times  so as to preserve a number of potential launch dates for both missions.

Look who had been waving at passing airplanes over McGregor today!

A Falcon Heavy facet booster around the McGregor test stand for a static fire test.

— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) November 18, 2018

In case it ends up the USAF is in fact unwilling to fly its original Falcon Heavy mission on all flight-proven boosters (a strong possibility) or that that has never been the plan, STP-2’s promised Q2 2019 goal would likely have to slip several months to 2019. This would manage SpaceX longer and funds to construct an extra three new Falcon Heavy boosters (two sides, one center), each of which takes a bare minimum of several months of dedicated production time and weeks of lead time (at least for the center core), all while avoiding or slowing the finished production of other fresh Falcon boosters.

The exact condition of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Heavy production is now unknown, together with indications that the corporation might be constructing or have already finished center number B1055 or greater, however it’s safe to state that there is not exactly a lot of slack in the production lines at the first half of 2019. Most important, SpaceX likely needs to begin production of those human-rated Falcon 9 boosters that will eventually launch the company’s first two crewed Crew Dragons as soon as June and August, respectively.

In the event the very first Falcon 9 set to launch a uncrewed Crew Dragon (B1051) is something to go off of, every human-rated Falcon 9 is put through an exceptionally time-consuming and rigorous assortment of tests to meet NASA’s requirements, requiring a substantial quantity of extra resources (infrastructure, and employees, time) to be produced and readied for launch. B1051 likely spent 3+ months in McGregor, Texas performing evaluations and one or many static flame tests, whereas a normal Falcon booster typically spends no more than 3-6 months at SpaceX’s evaluation centers before sending to its launch pad.

Finally, time will tell which barriers the company’s executives (and hopefully engineers) have selected for the following two Falcon Heavy starts: an outstanding accomplishment of Falcon reusability or even a Tesla-reminiscent span of Falcon production hell?

For prompt updates, on-the-ground views, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s recovery fleet check out our brand new LaunchPad and LandingZone newsletters!

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