Falcon Heavy running accelerating towards the sky during USSF-67 launch. Credits: Ben Cooper via Twitter

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy successfully launched in the USSF-67 mission

On Jan. 15, 2023, SpaceX launched the USSF-67 mission with a Falcon Heavy rocket. The mission carried LDPE-3A and the CBAS-2 satellite for the US Space Force

“Liftoff of USSF-67. Go Falcon Heavy! Go Space Force!”. After some delays, SpaceX finally launched the USSF-67 mission, in collaboration with the United States Space Force. The Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from Kennedy Space Center Historic Launch Complex 39A (HLC-39A) on Sunday, Jan. 15, at 5:56 p.m. EST (22:56 UTC).

Falcon Heavy lifting off from the pad at HLC-39A for USSF-67 mission. Jan. 15, 2023. Credits: SpaceX
Falcon Heavy lifting off from the pad at HLC-39A for USSF-67 mission. Jan. 15, 2023. Credits: SpaceX

About two and a half minutes after liftoff, the two side boosters separated from the core stage. Shortly after, they ignited three of their nine Merlin engines to perform the boostback burn towards the Florida coast, before relighting them again for the entry burn. Four minutes after liftoff the second stage separated from the core stage.

Eight and half minutes after liftoff, the two side boosters successfully landed at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) and Landing Zone 2 (LZ-2) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. As planned, the core stage has been expanded into the Atlantic Ocean, because the mission’s requirements didn’t allow enough fuel to return the booster back on land or offshore. 

After the side boosters landed, SpaceX ended the live webcast without showing the second stage and the payloads as requested by USSF. Approximately six hours after liftoff the US Space Force confirmed the mission’s success. 

Thanks to the sunset, the rocket exhaust created a spectacular contrast with the twilight, gifting the spectators with an amazing double boostback “jellyfish”.

Great "jellyfish" effect created by the side boosters during boostback burn shortly after separation from the center core. Credits: John Kraus via Twitter
Great “jellyfish” effect created by the side boosters during boostback burn shortly after separation from the center core. Credits: John Kraus via Twitter

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The mission

With the USSF-67 mission, Falcon Heavy carried two payloads for the Space Force into geostationary orbit (GEO). The primary payload was the Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM 2 (CBAS-2) satellite, while the second one was the Long Duration Propulsive ESPA (LDPE)-3A platform.

CBAS-2 is the second CBAS-series satellite, built by Boeing for the USSF. The mission of CBAS is to improve military satellite communications: in particular, it provides communications relay capabilities in support of senior leaders and combatant commanders. CBAS-1 was launched during the AFSPC-11 mission aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on April 14, 2018.

The Long Duration Propulsive ESPA 3A (LDPE-3A) is a payload adapter produced by Northrop Grumman for the USSF that on this mission carried five more payloads. Two of them were satellites for the U.S. Space Systems Command, called Catcher and WASSAT. The other three satellites were developed by the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (SRCO), a unit of the US Space Force created to develop and deliver operationally dominant space capabilities at the speed of warfighting relevance.

Falcon Heavy carrying the USSF-67 mission for the US Space Force, lifting off from HLC-39A. Jan. 15, 2023. Credits: Ben Cooper
Falcon Heavy carrying the USSF-67 mission for the US Space Force, lifting off from HLC-39A. Jan. 15, 2023. Credits: Ben Cooper via Twitter

Catcher and WASSAT

Catcher is a prototype sensor designed by The Aerospace Corporation to monitor space weather dangers. This new technology could help to control the space environments and the possible natural and human-made hazards. During this mission, Catcher will test a laser sensor, a microwave sensor, an impact sensor, and a radiation dosimeter.

WASSAT (Wide Area Search Satellite) is a camera/sensor designed to monitor other spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit. WASSAT will collect data on trajectories and anomalies on satellites or space debris for the GEODSS (Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance).

GEODS is an optical system used by the United States Space Surveillance Network (SSN) to detect deep space objects or at geosynchronous altitudes.


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The rocket

The Falcon Heavy is a partially reusable two-stage launch vehicle produced by SpaceX. It is composed of three Falcon 9 first stages: two side boosters and a center core booster. The Falcon Heavy stands 70 meters tall and thanks to its 27 Merlin engines, produces 22.200 kN thrust at liftoff.

This was the first Falcon Heavy launch of 2023, the second one in two months, and only the fifth ever. In November 2022, another Falcon Heavy carried the LDPE-2 payload adapter and three other satellites (Tetra-1, Linus, Alpine) during the USSF-44 mission.

For the USSF-67 mission, SpaceX reused B1064 and B1065, the same side boosters that supported the USSF-64 mission. This time too the brand-new center core hasn’t been recovered and was expended into the Atlantic.

All the power of 27 Merlin engines producing a 22.200 kN thrust to lift off the Falcon Heavy rocket. Credits: Ben Cooper via Twitter
All the power of 27 Merlin engines producing a 22.200 kN thrust to lift off the Falcon Heavy rocket. Credits: Ben Cooper via Twitter

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Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Aerospace engineering student at University of Padua, passionate of space and aerospace sector.

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