“Go Falcon Heavy!”. After many delays, SpaceX’s sixth Falcon Heavy finally lifted off on April 30, 2023, at 8:26 p.m. EST (May 1, 00:26 UTC) from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center. This mission carried the ViaSat-3 Americas (the main payload) and the smaller Arcturus and GS-1 satellites.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/EQMJRunDXH— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 1, 2023
Three minutes after liftoff the two side boosters separated from the center core that 80 seconds later separated from the second stage. Four and a half hours after liftoff the main payload was deployed, followed by the other two in the following 13 minutes.
Due to the performances required for this mission, all three boosters were expended, letting them fall in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, none of the boosters contained recovery elements like the grid fins and the landing legs.
The launch was initially scheduled for April 18 but then delayed due to some issues during the preflight static fire test. On April 26 and 28 launch windows, the liftoff was postponed again for bad weather conditions.
ViaSat-3: High-quality internet connection worldwide
ViaSat-3 Americas is a massive communication satellite and is part of the next-generation ViaSat-3 constellation built by Boeing and operated by ViaSat. The constellation consists of three ultra-high-capacity Ka-band satellites that can cover different areas worldwide providing high-quality connectivity.
The ViaSat-3 satellites are built on the Boeing’s 702MP+ satellite platform. Each satellite weighs about 6 tons and thanks to its large solar panels it reaches a length of 43.9 meters. ViaSat-3 can deliver 1 Terabyte of data per second (1Tbps) with a download speed of 100+ Mbps. To reach these performances the satellite is equipped with an enormous reflector, connected to the satellite’s bus with a boom derived from the James Webb Space Telescope’s sunshade mid-booms.
Americas was placed in a geostationary orbit 36.000 kilometers above the equator and will have an orbital lifetime of more than 15 years.
ViaSat-3 Americas will focus on covering the American continent, ViaSat-3 EMEA will cover Europe, the Middle East and Africa, ViaSat-3 APAC will instead cover the Asia-Pacific Region. The last one was originally planned to be launched on board an Ariane 6 rocket, but due to years of delay, Viasat decided to look for new proposals. Most likely they will opt for another SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch.
Two smaller payloads
Alongside ViaSat-3 there were two other smaller satellites on board the Falcon Heavy.
Arcturus (Aurora 4A) is a MicroGEO Ka-band communication satellite developed by the American company Astranis Space Technologies. Astranis’s MicroGEO satellites are meant to provide dedicated services to one country or region and this is the first one to be launched. Arcturus will provide high-speed, reliable connectivity to the Alaska state, in collaboration with Pacific Dataport, Inc (PDI).
Astranis took advantage of the ViaSat mission to deploy Arcturus on a geostationary orbit that will be maintained using electric propulsion for an estimated lifetime of 10 years.
The third payload, G-Space 1 is a 16U cubesat satellite built by the Danish company Space Inventor for Gravity Space. The spacecraft provides communication services for IOTs (Internet of Things) and orbital slot reservation services (BIU) on geosynchronous orbit.
GS-1 hosted several payloads, the principal is Nusantara H-1A, an Indonesian satellite that will enable the operator to retain Ka and Ku bands rights reserved for a delayed satellite.
Falcon Heavy is a partially reusable two-stage rocket produced by SpaceX. The vehicle consists of three Falcon 9 first stages: two side boosters and a center core booster. Falcon Heavy is 70 meters tall and is powered by 27 Merlin engines that produce 22.200 kN of thrust at liftoff.
This was the second Falcon Heavy launch of 2023 and the sixth overall. The boosters used for this mission were B1052 and B1053 which have already served as side boosters in two previous FH launches. The B1068 center core was instead new.