Thursday, January 5, 2023

It Could Be a Good Year for Falcon Heavy Launches

At the risk of being too optimistic, it's looking like 2023 could be a good year for Falcon Heavy launches.  Let me rush to acknowledge the same thing was said in November of 2021 predicting '22 would be a good year.  Needless to say, we had one FH launch in '22, November's USSF-44 mission, so the prediction was a bust. 

As I reported on Tuesday, the next Falcon Heavy launch is penciled in for No Earlier Than Thursday, January 12th at 5:39 PM EST and will also be for the US Space Force, USSF-67.  At 72 days since the November mission, this will be the shortest gap between FH missions ever, although only three days less than the gap between the first two test missions in 2019.  There's clearly a possibility a hold or two could leave the record in '19.

According to the US Space Systems Command (SSC), USSF-67 – like USSF-44 – will carry an Aerojet Rocketdyne Long Duration Propulsive EELV (LPDE) spacecraft as a main payload. Aboard LPDE-3A, which is essentially a satellite without a payload, various stakeholders will install an unknown number of experiments, instruments, and smaller satellites that can be activated or deployed once in orbit. The SSC says [PDF] that “LDPE provides critical data to inform future Space Force programs” and that “the unique experiments and prototype payloads hosted on LDPE-3A [will] advance warfighting capabilities in the areas of on-orbit threat assessment, space hazard detection, and space domain awareness.”

The backlog on payloads may be resolving, or it may just be that details on availability haven't been updated in a while, but shows five Falcon Heavy launches this year.   

Let me point out that the first four of those missions are NET than May, meaning there's still six full months left in the year if some of the payloads suffer further delays. The last one, the Psyche asteroid probe, was delayed last June by a major software SNAFU discovered during launch preparations.  That software has been fixed and that payload should be in good shape.

I don't have an equivalent graphic for November of '21, but it would be interesting to see.  

When SpaceX talks about 100 launches for this year, I think that these are considered single launches.  The side boosters are counted as separate Falcon 9 booster recoveries - at least one or two of the commentators doing the coverage for their Falcon 9 launches have said so.  Next Thursday's USSF-67 launch will reuse both side boosters that lifted November's USSF-44 launch, and like USSF-44, the center core stage will be expended for the gain in performance they get. 

November's USSF-44 mission on the way to LC-39A.  Richard Angle photo for Teslarati.

1 comment:

  1. SpaceX has been ready to launch Falcon Heavy whenever, the holdups have all been due to the payload(s) not being ready for whatever reason. Still and all, 2023 is gonna be exciting!