Tonight – technically in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 25, 2019 – SpaceX will be launching a whopping 24 payloads into three unique orbits around planet Earth.
Organized by the United States Air Force, the planned Space Test Program-2 flight has been referred to by SpaceX founder Elon Musk as its “most difficult launch ever,” in which the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket, currently the strongest in the world, will take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
The flight had been planned for late tonight, though an issue with the ground systems caused SpaceX to push the flight back three hours. If necessary, SpaceX could push the flight back one more hour and still be within the confines of the four-hour-long window that the company has to send its rocket into planet Earth’s orbit.
According to SpaceX, the entire mission will last roughly four hours. Number one of the 24 deployments of satellites will take place some 12 minutes after the Falcon Heavy rocket initiates its launch sequence.
The planned launch marks the third instance in which SpaceX has used its Falcon Heavy rocket to deliver payloads into space. Two side boosters will be used to change the rocket’s position so as to launch payloads into other orbits.
The boosters are scheduled to land at SpaceX’s very own landing zones, fittingly named Landing Zones 1 and 2, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the same location that NASA has always used to launch things into space. Falcon Heavy’s primary booster will try out landing on the drone ship named Of Course I Still Love You deep into the Atlantic Ocean, roughly 800 miles off of the coast of Florida. If the recovery of the Falcon Heavy booster is successful, it will mark the farthest distance that one of SpaceX’s rocket boosters will have been recovered after launching payloads into space.
Space Test Program-2 is being managed by the United States Department of Defense, and will be the first time that the federal government agency has used SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to launch payloads into space. Further, this will mark the first occasion on which SpaceX has used Falcon Heavy to send more than one satellite into Earth’s orbit.
The mission will also mark the first time that SpaceX has used the upper stage of any of its rockets to go through four separate burns. In the past, the most upper-stage burns that SpaceX has utilized is three.