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SpaceX Plans First-Ever Commercial Falcon Heavy Launch Tonight

SpaceX Plans First-Ever Commercial Falcon Heavy Launch Tonight

The launch is now scheduled for 6:35 p.m. EST, and it will be streamed live online.

For SpaceX, the introduction of the large and reusable Falcon Heavy into its launch business gives the company the ability to bid on heavier payloads than it can with the smaller Falcon 9 rocket, opening up the market for big commercial satellites launches and national security missions. Planetary scientists have also said the rocket's mere existence has put price pressure on other boosters typically used for deep space probes.

Introducing a new ultra-powerful rocket has allowed SpaceX to compete directly with arch rival United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, for lucrative government contracts that require heavy-lift launch vehicles. Altogether, Falcon Heavy likely weighs upwards of 80,000 kg (175,000 lb) empty and more than 1,420 metric tons (3,125,000 lb) when fully fueled.

This might be the second flight for SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket but it's still a major "first" for the company in a number of ways. Before the rocket finally launched more than two years later, Musk suggested to several news outlets, including CNN, that the rocket could explode.

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First and foremost, Falcon Heavy's job is to safely place the Saudi Arabian communications satellite Arabsat 6A into a high-energy geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) more than 35,000 km (~22,000 mi) above Earth's surface. As the space agency considers all contingency plans to accelerate a human return to the Moon, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said there is a scenario in which a Falcon Heavy-albeit with a different upper stage-could launch the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. But for the second mission of the world's most powerful rocket, the company has something even better: A paying customer. Then, the side boosters landed successfully while the center core missed its target on a barge at sea and was destroyed. The side boosters are already scheduled for re-use in June on another Falcon Heavy flight. That will be the first Falcon Heavy flight to re-use boosters. But the middle booster missed a seaborne platform it was created to land on, and instead splashed into the ocean. Because of its reinforcements, that booster is heavier, and because it is the center core, it flies higher and faster than the side boosters, increasing the difficulty of landing. That booster ran out of ignition fluid and couldn't restart its engines for the final landing burn, instead plummeting into the sea.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy is ready launch from Florida's Space Coast on Wednesday, April 10.

Falcon Heavy is not expected to fly almost as often as its smaller counterpart, which has completed more than 20 missions since last February.


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