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Jason DavisApril 11, 2019

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Flies Again; LightSail 2 Is Next!

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully placed the Arabsat-6A communications satellite into orbit! This marks the rocket's second mission overall, and the first for a paying customer. The next time Falcon Heavy flies, The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft will be aboard!

News Brief

After a launch delay yesterday due to high-level winds, the Falcon Heavy lifted off Thursday at 18:35 EDT (22:35 UTC), right at the start of its two-hour launch window. Two-and-a-half minutes into the flight, the side boosters separated, followed by the center core about a minute later. The side boosters successfully flew back to Cape Canaveral and touched down upright at Landing Zones 1 and 2, while the center core landed on the droneship Of Course I Still Love You. This marked another milestone for SpaceX, since the center core barely missed the drone ship during the rocket's first flight on 6 February, 2018.

Arabsat-6A side boosters after landing


Arabsat-6A side boosters after landing
Two SpaceX Falcon Heavy side boosters stand tall after touching down at Landing Zones 1 and 2 in Cape Canaveral, Florida after launch on 11 April 2019.
Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy center core on droneship


Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy center core on droneship
The Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy center core sits on the droneship Of Course I Still Love You after landing on 11 April 2019.

The Falcon Heavy successfully deployed its payload, Arabsat-6A, about 34 minutes after liftoff:

Successful deployment of Arabsat-6A to geosynchronous transfer orbit confirmed—completing Falcon Heavy’s first commercial mission!

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 11, 2019

Today’s successful mission clears the way for the Falcon Heavy's third flight, Space Test Program 2 (STP-2), which will carry a fleet of 25 satellites to 3 different orbits. LightSail 2 will be enclosed within a slightly larger spacecraft called Prox-1, and the combined Prox-1/LightSail 2 payload will be deployed into a 720 km circular orbit.

Our most recent official launch date from the Air Force, which is the primary customer for the STP-2 mission, was no earlier than 31 May 2019. We don't expect the launch to occur on that date, but as soon as we have more definitive news to share about the expected launch date, we will!

LightSail 2 is currently in storage at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California, where it will stay until shipped to the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico for integration with Prox-1. This week, LightSail 2 engineer Alex Diaz performed a software update to the vehicle's solar sailing algorithm. He also topped off the spacecraft's batteries, and the team will continue to do this periodically before launch. 

Read more: LightSail

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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