After three years of waiting, finally, the world saw the most powerful beast again on the ramp, ready to roar all of its twenty-seven Merlin engines.
The rocket was launched at 9:41 a.m. ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) in Florida, carrying satellites to space for the US Space Force as part of the classified mission USSF-44.
A few minutes after the launch, we witnessed the traditional and spectacular double synchronized boosters landing. Instead, as planned, the central core concluded its journey in the ocean.
Photo credits: CNN business by Jackie Wattles
USSF-44 is a classified mission for the United States Space Force, meaning we have almost no information about it. Falcon Heavy carried two satellites to space: the first one is TERRA-1, a microsat built by Millennium Space Systems, which will serve as a technology demonstrator in Geostationary Orbit (GEO). The second one is a deployer carrying six classified payloads.
Falcon Heavy takes Flight! We were only able to catch a few moments of camera tracking between heavy fog and clouds 🎥… but, sharing the ripping sounds of liftoff and sonic booms soon! @Erdayastronaut @SpaceForceDoD #USSF44 pic.twitter.com/h5ddyVepHC— Cosmic Perspective (@considercosmos) November 1, 2022
Instead, we can extract some details from the mission profile: USSF-44 was the first direct transfer to GEO for SpaceX. In contrast, all the previous Falcon 9 / Heavy missions carrying payloads to that orbital region were placing the satellites into a GTO.
What does it mean? It means that Falcon Heavy’s second stage had to place the two satellites in their final operational orbit instead of demanding the final circularization burn to the payloads. This is why the central core was flown in expendable configuration, extracting all possible Delta Velocity it could give.
Falcon 9 configuration
The most powerful rocket inside the SpaceX family – and currently also in the world – is made up of three Falcon 9 cores strapped together whit a standard F9 second on top.
For this mission, all three cores were brand new, although only the two side boosters – B1064 & B1065 – were fitted whit the full reentry and landing suite of hardware (grid fins, landing lags, and ADCS) to land on LZ1 and LZ2 at KSC.
Record and Future Flights
As usually happens with SpaceX missions, USSF-44 set new records for the company. Specifically, it was the 50th mission of the year and the 150th & 151st recovery of a booster.
Falcon Heavy’s side boosters have landed – marking the 150th and 151st recovery of orbital class rockets pic.twitter.com/vK4ZdfDQtX— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 1, 2022
Hopefully, this time we won’t have to wait three years to see another Falcon Heavy launch. The same side booster flown during the mission should support another launch for the Space Force later this year.