SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 1 at 9:41 am local time. This is the first time since June 2019 that the rocket has taken to the sky. And it did so for a secret mission on behalf of the US Space System Command, part of the Department of Defense's activities in space.
Details of the mission, as one might imagine, are scarce. It wouldn’t really be a classified mission otherwise. But the US Space Force has shared some details. The mission, dubbed USSF-44 placed multiple satellites in orbit. Among the payload, there were two vehicles the Long Duration Propulsive EELV Secondary Payload Adaptor (LDPE ESPA-2) and the Shepard Demonstration Mission.
The LDPE ESPA-2 has been compared to a freight train, which boosts satellites to geosynchronous orbits. It will demonstrate that by delivering six small payloads there, including satellites for advanced communications and space weather. The idea is that this could be a way to move smaller payloads to higher orbits. This is the second of three missions in the LDPE program.
The Shepard Demonstration is testing new technologies that should guarantee safe and responsible rendezvous in space and enhance proximity operations. Again, something that has many intriguing possibilities.
“We are always looking ahead, planning for the future needs of our space system partners and investing in talent and technologies we will need to ensure we provide assured access to space with confidence,” U.S. Space Force Maj. Gen. Select Stephen Purdy said in a statement.
SpaceX Falcon launches are famous for the return on the ground of their boosters. They are then refurbished ahead of a new launch, to cut down on costs. The Falcon Heavy had not yet been able to land its side boosters and center core down on Earth safely at the same time. Yesterday’s launch saw the side boosters coming down on land safely.
The core was not going to be recovered as the fuel consumption needed for this mission wouldn’t have allowed a safe return. The side boosters are expected to be refurbished in time for another Space Force launch in the next two months.
The Falcon Heavy might not hold the record for the most powerful rocket for much longer. If everything goes according to plan, NASA’s Space Launch System will fly the Artemis I mission later this month, becoming the new record-holder.