The First Commercial Launch of Falcon Heavy — Part 1: Do We Need it?

No Roadsters or mannequins this time.

If you witnessed the static fire yesterday it was spectacular. The upcoming launch of Arabsat will be epic.

The launch that is currently expected sometime next week will lift the 13,200 lb Arabsat 6A communications relay satellite that will serve television, Internet, telephone, and secure communications to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

I read folks who were skeptical whether Falcon Heavy would even have a market. However, it is not that much more expensive than Falcon 9, quite a bit less expensive than Atlas IV, and way less expensive than Delta IV Heavy. It can launch large payloads much closer to Geosynchronous Orbit, a very, very high orbit where a satellite can seem to hover over a fixed point over the Earth’s equator so that you can point your satellite dish at it. Lighter lifters like the Falcon 9 can only lift those spacecraft to what is called Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, and then the satellite has to expend its own fuel to raise and flatten that orbit with its station-keeping engines, taking years off of its useful lifespan.

Cable and satellite TV, and some Internet and telephone, are currently relayed to the masses through huge, singular, high-flying geosynchronous spacecraft like Arabsat…but times they are a-changin’. These satellites can only be reached with a heavy dish and only in places on the planet where the Southern sky is unobstructed.

I have a device in my truck called a Garmin InReach. It uses the Iridium satellite network, a large group of very low-orbiting satellites that orbit the Earth from pole to pole. These can relay signals to cell-phone sized devices anywhere. My InReach device is for GPS navigation and emergency text messaging, but commercial aircraft use that same network to provide in-flight telephone and Internet access to their customers. Ships at sea use the Iridium network for the same thing. Several companies, including SpaceX, are planning to serve very high-speed Internet this way direct to your cell phone the very near future.

More and more people are using Internet streaming for their video these days instead of cable and satellite TV. However, enough of the world still uses traditional satellite TV to make that orbit the most lucrative target for launch companies like SpaceX. To provide a comparatively inexpensive lifter to put large communications spacecraft right into that orbit allows a satellite investment to serve longer and thus encourages companies to build and fly even larger, more sophisticated and expensive spacecraft down the road. While some folks think that satellites like Arabsat 6A might not be as badly needed in the future, those that are currently in planning will now have the cheap Falcon Heavy to orbit them right where they need to be…keeping that orbit more financially competitive for a few more years until the polar, low-orbiting networks like Skynet and similar technologies come online and push them out of the market.

Even better, this second launch, if successful, proves that the first launch wasn’t just a fluke. It puts this launcher one step closer to full certification with NASA and further solidifies its current certification with the U.S. Air Force and future U.S. Space Corps.

As the first launch of the Falcon Heavy using the crew-ready Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 core, it puts data on the board for crew rating both the Falcon Heavy and the Falcon 9 that will fly crew to the International Space Station later this year. It also has somewhere between 10% and 20% more thrust than the lifter that threw Starman to Mars’ Solar orbit last year.

And yes…NASA, the Trump Administration, and others have noticed.


What will this launch do to NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule?

For more articles on the Falcon Heavy, Click here!

photo credit: jurvetson SpaceX Falcon Heavy Blastoff (6 of 7) via photopin (license)


~ by Bill Housley on April 6, 2019.

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