Sunday, April 14, 2019

Falcon Heavy Delivers Arabsat-6A into Orbit

Falcon Heavy launches the Arabsat-6A satellite from Launch Complex 39A on April 11. Credit: SpaceX

On Thursday, April 11 at 6:35 p.m. EDT, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy launched the Arabsat-6A satellite from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The satellite was deployed approximately 34 minutes after liftoff.

Following booster separation, Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 (LZ-1 and LZ-2) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Falcon Heavy’s center core landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

The launch came fourteen months after Falcon Heavy made its successful maiden flight, sending founder and CEO Elon Musk’s old Tesla Roadster car into an interplanetary trajectory in lieu of using a more traditional demonstration payload.

The Roadster launch proved the Falcon Heavy design in flight, demonstrating that the rocket could deliver more valuable payloads to orbit. Thursday’s launch sees the rocket entrusted with an advanced telecommunications satellite for Saudi Arabian operator Arabsat.

Arabsat-6A was constructed by Lockheed Martin. It is built around the LM2100 satellite bus, a modernized version of the company’s successful A2100 platform. Arabsat announced that it had contracted Lockheed Martin to build the satellite in April 2015, along with a second satellite: HellasSat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1. HellasSat-4/SGS-1 was successfully deployed by an Ariane 5ECA rocket in February.

The Arabsat-6A satellite has a dry mass of 3,520 kilograms (7,980 pounds), but fully fuelled it weighs in at over 6,000 kg (13,200 lb). The satellite will operate in geostationary orbit, a particular class of orbit where the satellite takes exactly one day to complete a revolution, remaining in the same position relative to the ground. Arabsat-6A will be stationed at a longitude of 30.5 degrees East, where it will join and later replace the nine-year-old Arabsat 5A.

Like Falcon 9, SpaceX has designed and engineered Falcon Heavy fore reusability. During the launch the two side boosters are expected to fly back to Cape Canaveral after separating from the rocket, making powered touchdowns at Landing Zones 1 and 2, to the south of Falcon Heavy’s launch pad.

The first engine burn of Falcon’s second stage ended at eight minutes and 48 seconds mission elapsed time – a point in the flight designated SECO-1. One minute later the first stage center core made its landing aboard the drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You.

During last year’s Falcon Heavy test flight recovery of the center core was unsuccessful as the rocket only had sufficient igniter fluid to restart one engine for what was planned to be a three-engine burn.

This time, SpaceX recovered all three boosters from this launch. Recovery of the center core was particularly difficult because of its higher velocity.

The coast between the first and second burns of Falcon Heavy’s second stage lasted 23 minutes and 27 seconds, beginning with SECO-1 and ending with the MVac engine restarting for its second burn. This was a one-minute, 26-second firing that raised Arabsat-6A into geosynchronous transfer orbit. Five minutes and two seconds after SECO-2 – the end of the second burn – Arabsat-6A separated from Falcon Heavy to begin its own journey.

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