Lightning doesn’t damage Falcon Heavy as SpaceX has 2 launches planned today with improving weather

Yet another day of severe storms rolled through Central Florida on Thursday with lightning striking the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center where SpaceX had its latest Falcon Heavy rocket awaiting launch. Weather threats today could delay two Space Coast launches planned for this evening, but conditions and chances have improved during the day.

“Last night’s storm in Florida produced hail, tornadoes and lightning,” the company posted with an image of a lightning strike hitting one of the protective towers surrounding Launch Pad 39-A. “Following this strike on the tower at 39A, teams performed additional checkouts of Falcon Heavy, the payloads, and ground support equipment. All systems are looking good.”

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The company has both the Falcon Heavy prepped for launch as well as a Falcon 9 at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station slated for liftoff this evening, although weather is not predicted to be great for either.

“The very active weather pattern that produced severe storms over the Spaceport yesterday will remain in place today and into the weekend,” said an updated weather forecast from Space Launch Delta 45′s weather squadron. “Showers and thunderstorms will again develop this afternoon due to several pulses of energy aloft, low level offshore flow, and plentiful moisture.”

The forecast said that while the pattern is not as unstable as the previous few days, strong to isolated severe thunderstorms are still possible in the afternoon and evening.

The Falcon 9 is up first now targeting 6:16 p.m. during an an 88-minute window that runs from 5:12-6:40 p.m. with a backup window on Saturday during the same window. The 57-minute Falcon Heavy window opens at 7:29 p.m. and runs through 8:26 p.m.

Earlier Friday, the 45th said the earlier attempt faces worse odds with only a 20% chance for good conditions, but SpaceX at 4 p.m. said weather chances had improved to 70%. The standing forecast for the Falcon Heavy attempt from Thursday predicted on a 30% chances for good conditions. SpaceX at 5:30 p.m. said that weather chances for the opening of the window had improved to 50% and would continue to improve to 70% chance by the end of the window.

First up is Falcon 9′s attempt from Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 to send up the SES 03b mPOWER-B satellite to medium-Earth orbit.

The first-stage booster is being flown for the second time having previously been used on the NASA Crew-6 mission. The company will attempt its recovery on the droneship Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean.

Next up is the Falcon Heavy chance from KSC’s Launch Pad 39-A with the main payload being the ViaSat-3 Americas broadband communications satellite, the first of three planned for the company headed for geostationary orbit. Also flying are the Astranis MicroGEO satellite and Gravity Space’s GS-1 satellite.

Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket that launches with any regularity on the market, essentially three Falcon 9′s strapped together.

Because of the required target insertion, though, SpaceX will forego the normal attempts to recover the three Falcon Heavy boosters, so no sonic booms are in order for today’s launch.

The first ViaSat-3 satellite, with a payload integrated into a structure built by Boeing Satellite Systems, will have a coverage area that will include the majority North America including the continental U.S. and Mexico as well as all of the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Plans are for it to be operational in June, after which it’s projected to be able to deliver up to 1 terabit of data per second in the Ka-band of frequencies, the same range that is planned for Amazon’s Project Kuiper when it launches in a few years.

“There are several entrants into this frequency regime,” said Viasat executive Dave Ryan. “Some are there, some are not quite there yet, but it’s a very big marketplace. We believe it definitely can support multiple people in the market.”

The next ViaSat-3 satellite will aim to cover Europe, the Middle East and Africa followed by the final satellite for Asia and the Pacific for near global coverage. Right now all of its satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, but it has worked in LEO in the past.

“We believe in the future that a multiorbit strategy is going to be ultimately the best idea because each orbit has its pros and cons,” he said. “Geosynchronous orbit is by far and away the most efficient to deliver broadband capacity to the Earth.”

Each launch could come six to nine months after one another. The next will come on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, with the final launch provider to be determined.

“Nearly half of the capacity of the ViaSat-3 fleet is designed to be available to areas that are currently unconnected or underserved — and the constellation will have the flexibility to move bandwidth from low-demand areas to high-demand areas,” the company stated in a press release.

It’s the second Falcon Heavy launch of as many as five planned for 2023. The 5.1 million pounds of thrust is more than double that of United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, but shy of the power of NASA’s Space Launch System that launched just once last fall, and miniscule compared to the more than 17 million pounds of thrust that was produced by SpaceX’s Starship test flight last week that ended with it exploding before reaching space.

Falcon Heavy is powered by 27 Merlin engines across the three first stages. After this launch, SpaceX has one planned for the Space Force dubbed USSF-52 expected in the first half of 2023, a private telecom satellite launch for Hughes Network Systems called the Jupiter 3 and the October launch of NASA’s Psyche probe headed the metal-rich asteroid of the same name that orbits the sun beyond Mars.

Its first-ever flight was in 2018, a test launch that sent up Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster into space. SpaceX followed that up with a commercial payload in April 2019, a Department of Defense mission in June 2019, then a three-year drought before knocking out two launches in the last six months.

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The two launches would potentially set a record for SpaceX for time in between missions, and if both were to fly would be the 20th and 21st launches from the Space Coast for the year with 20 of the 21 coming from SpaceX.

Excluding Starship, which did not make orbit, SpaceX has already flown 27 missions across its three other launch facilities including eight from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The most recent took off from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4 East at 9:40 a.m. EDT Thursday through dense fog on a mission to fly up 46 of the company’s Starlink internet satellites to low-Earth orbit.

The first stage booster flew for the 13th time and the company was able to recovery it on the droneship Of Course I Still Love You in the Pacific Ocean.

To date the company has flown 225 successful orbital missions managing 187 booster recoveries allowing for 157 reflights of those boosters.

If it manages the KSC ViaSat-3 and Canaveral mPOWER-B launches before Sunday, it will have completed 29 for the year through the first four months. It managed 61 launches in 2022 and this year could see as many as 100, according to company CEO Elon Musk, with the majority coming from the Space Coast.

Follow Orlando Sentinel space coverage at Facebook.com/goforlaunchsentinel.


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