SpaceX Falcon Heavy to launch NOAA satellite


It’s time to bring out the big engines. Those on the Space Coast will soon be in for a treat.

Not one, but three Falcon 9 first-stage rockets that make up the Falcon Heavy are scheduled to temporarily launch a weather satellite into orbit in Florida skies.

It’s been a while since Florida saw this scene: two Falcon 9s supporting the main rocket carrying the second stage and payload into space. The Falcon Heavy last soared into Florida skies from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A in late December, carrying a secret Space Force spacecraft known as the X-37B. The only comparable launch since then was the triple-core ULA Delta IV Heavy Final, which carried a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office from Cape Canaveral in April.

Why is the Falcon Heavy needed for this launch?

A bigger payload requires more power, and as NOAA and NASA prepare to launch the GOES-U weather satellite on Tuesday, June 25, they need a bigger rocket. The satellite is comparable to a small school bus, so one of the heavier lift rockets will be used. Enter the Falcon Heavy.

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SpaceX Space Coast Rockets: Falcon Heavy vs Falcon 9

Simply put, the Falcon Heavy is the first stages of three Falcon 9 rockets – together they give three times the lift. The center is fully loaded with the Falcon 9 rocket’s secondary stage and payload above. The payload, in this case a NOAA satellite, is attached to a fairing to protect it on its way to space.

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In comparison, the Falcon 9 that launches Starlink missions is a single rocket. One of these single rockets is 229.6 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter with the second stage.

Among the three Falcon 9 rockets, the monster Falcon Heavy stands at the same height. However, it is also quite wide, giving it a width of 39.9 feet, which is almost comparable to the bumper of three parked cars.

According to SpaceX, Falcon Heavy has flown nine launches, 17 booster landings and 14 booster reflights.

The first successful Falcon Heavy flew in February 2018, carrying as its payload a red Tesla Roadster and a mannequin called ‘Starman’ decked out in a SpaceX spacesuit.

Falcon Heavy Thrust: How Powerful Is This Rocket?

Three Falcon 9 rockets – each powered by nine Merlin engines – give the Falcon Heavy vehicle the power of 27 Merlin engines for liftoff. Each of these 27 engines provides 190,000 pounds of thrust. According to SpaceX, this force provides a total of five million pounds of thrust.

SpaceX says the Falcon Heavy can carry all its fuel, cargo, passengers and into orbit at a weight comparable to that of a 737 jetliner.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Booster Landing

SpaceX will recover two supporting Falcon 9 boosters. Following the practice of previous flights, both boosters will land at the Cape Canaveral landing site – giving a double sonic boom. If SpaceX continues the practice of past Falcon Heavy flights, the core Falcon 9 will break up in the ocean after completing its mission.

Landing all three boosters proved to be a difficult task. When a core booster landed aboard a drone in the Atlantic in 2019, SpaceX failed to bring it back to port.

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Get ready for falcon heavy sonic booms

Two sonic booms will be heard on the Space Coast as the two auxiliary boosters land at SpaceX Landing Pads 1 and 2 on the coast of Cape Canaveral. When the boosters return to Earth, they travel faster than the speed of sound. It breaks the sound barrier and emits a sound similar to a loud clap of thunder.

The sonic booms come as the boosters are already landing, which may sound puzzling. Physics explains this situation simply because light travels faster than sound. Returning boosters are seen before hearing sonic booms.

It can be a startling sight, especially if no one is witnessing it – the boosters land quietly before hearing a loud, earth-shattering thump.

When is the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launched?

On Tuesday, weather permitting on the Space Coast, Falcon Heavy will blast off from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A and carry the NOAA/NASA GOES-U satellite into orbit.

GOES-U is NOAA’s latest weather satellite, promising continuous hurricane monitoring. Weather monitoring satellites such as the GOES series are important for places like Florida that experience these extreme weather events.

GOES-U will provide a valuable watch from above — observing hurricanes as they form. “We know about them because of the GOES satellites. They sit more than 22,000 miles above the equator and are under constant observation,” NOAA project scientist Don Lindsey told Florida Today.

Be sure to follow the Florida Today Space Team for the latest updates on the Space Coast.

Brooke Edwards is a space reporter for Florida Today. Contact her [email protected] or in X: @brookofstars.

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