Watch Falcon Heavy Fly Its First Night Launch & DOD Mission Tonight

UPDATE 9:00pm Eastern June 24: SpaceX has delayed tonight’s planned launch from 11:30pm to ‘No Earlier Than’ 2:30am Eastern time.

ORIGINAL STORY: For the third time in 16 months, SpaceX is readying the most powerful rocket in its fleet—the tripled-cored Falcon Heavy—to launch from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Scheduled to fly late Monday night, 24 June, the giant booster, whose 27 Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines produce approximately 5.1 million pounds (2.3 million kg) of propulsive yield, will launch the multi-faceted STP-2 mission for the Department of Defense Space Test Program.

The rocket is scheduled to fly due East from the Florida spaceport during a four-hour “window” extending from 11:30 p.m. EDT Monday through 3:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, 25 June. It will mark the Falcon Heavy’s first flight in the hours of darkness, and will also build upon the test-flight experience gained during its two previous launches to trial the capability of reflying the same side boosters (B1052 and B1053) from its most recent launch last April.



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'Stronger Than Required': Remembering Skylab's End, 40 Years On

Forty years ago, this summer, America’s first space station, Skylab, breathed its last and commenced a slow descent back to Earth, eventually to burn up in the atmosphere. The vast complex—a converted Saturn V S-IVB third stage, which remains the largest and most massive single object ever launched into orbit on a single booster—had been launched in May 1973, but had endured near-calamity from the start: a troubled ascent had seen its micrometeoroid shield torn away, one solar array ripped off and another clogged with debris.

Once in space, the sterling efforts of three astronaut crews over the next nine months had brought Skylab back to life, repaired it and achieved spectacular scientific results. Hundreds of hours of solar and astronomical observations were made, together with dozens of Earth resources studies and a vast corpus of biomedical data aided our understanding of how the human body functions in space over long periods of time.



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Curiosity Detects Large Methane Burst on Mars, NASA Orders Follow-Up Testing

Self-portrait of Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars. Photo Credit: NASA/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

It seems that Mars is belching methane again. NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected a new burst of the gas, it was reported today in the New York Times.

The new detection of the gas – which can come from either biology or geology – happened last Wednesday.



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Gold Star for an Admiral: Remembering Astronaut Dave Griggs, 30 Years On

Thirty years ago, America’s Space Shuttle program had risen from the depths of despair—following the calamitous loss of Challenger—to a triumphant return-to-flight and the three surviving orbiters, Columbia, Discovery and Atlantis, were beginning to establish a tempo for a resumption of mission operations. In November 1988, two months after STS-26 finally laid Challenger’s ghosts to rest, several new shuttle crews were announced for the following year.

One of them, the crew of STS-33, included retired U.S. Navy Naval Air Reserve rear admiral Dave Griggs, who would the most senior military officer ever to fly aboard the shuttle. Griggs had flown once before and would be embarking on his first flight in the pilot’s seat, but only six months later, on 17 June 1989, he lost his life in a shocking tragedy that no one could possibly have foreseen and which altered the face of STS-33 forever.



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NASA's Psyche Mission to Metal Asteroid Enters Final Design Phase

Artist’s concept of the Psyche spacecraft near the metal asteroid Psyche. This type of asteroid has never been visited by any earthly spacecraft before. Image Credit: SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Psyche mission is preparing to go someplace that no other planetary mission has been to before: a metal asteroid. Now, NASA Headquarters in Washington has approved the start of the final design and fabrication phase of the mission, known as Phase C.



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Second-Use Falcon 9 Smoothly Delivers Radarsat Trio to Near-Polar Orbit

For the fifteenth time in under six years, the roar of Merlin rocket engines rolled across a fog-enshrouded Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., earlier this morning (Wednesday, 12 June), as SpaceX smoothly delivered Canada’s three-satellite Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) into near-polar orbit, some 370 miles (600 km) above Earth. The Upgraded Falcon 9—tailnumbered “B1051” and returning to service for a second time, after previously lofting the Demo-1 mission of Crew Dragon in March—rose perfectly from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at 7:17 a.m. PDT, its reddish-orange flare slicing through the low-level murk. A few minutes later the first-stage core returned to alight smoothly on Landing Zone (LZ)-4 at Vandenberg. It was the second West Coast touchdown on solid ground for SpaceX, following last October’s homecoming of the B1048 first stage following the SAOCOM-1A mission.



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Why Trump’s Space Tweets Matter

Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt with the U.S. flag and the Earth in the sky. Taken during the mission’s first EVA on the lunar surface on December 19, 1972. Photo: NASA

President Trump, in a tweet on June 7th at 1:38 PM, publicly put himself at odds with a policy directive that he himself signed just a year-and-a-half ago. That directive, Space Policy Directive 1[1], signed on December 11, 2017, changed space policy by amending the Presidential Policy Directive–4 of June 28, 2010[2]:



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Canada's Three-Satellite Radarsat Constellation Stands Ready for Tuesday SpaceX Launch

A trio of identical satellites, each bearing the maple leaf of Canada, will rise to orbit on Wednesday, 12 June, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on a mission to provide comprehensive maritime surveillance, disaster management and the assessment of various ecosystems across the Arctic region. The Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) will also provide daily coverage of more than 90 percent of the world’s surface.



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'Down Among 'Em': Remembering Apollo 10, 50 Years On (Part 4)

Fifty years ago, this spring, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 circled the Moon, marking humanity’s second voyage to our closest celestial neighbor. Their spacecraft had many of the provisions needed to execute a landing—a Command and Service Module (CSM), which they had nicknamed “Charlie Brown”, and a Lunar Module (LM), “Snoopy”—but on this “F mission”, Commander Tom Stafford, Command Module Pilot (CMP) John Young and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Gene Cernan performed a full dress rehearsal for the first landfall on alien soil. They would test the LM’s descent engine, guidance and navigation systems and radar and in doing so would clear the final hurdle in anticipation of the historic Apollo 11 voyage in July.



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'We Have Arrived': Remembering Apollo 10, 50 Years On (Part 3)

Four hours after a bone-jarring launch from Cape Kennedy—marking the first-ever space mission to originate from Pad 39B—and an equally rattling ride through Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI), on 18 May 1969 the crew of Apollo 10 were finally on their way to the Moon. Their mission to lunar orbit would clear the final hurdles before humanity’s first piloted landing on an alien world on Apollo 11. Those hurdles included Commander Tom Stafford and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Gene Cernan guiding the spider-like Lunar Module (LM), which they had nicknamed “Snoopy”, to within nine miles (15 km) of the Moon’s surface. In doing so, they left Command Module Pilot (CMP) John Young to become the first man ever to fly solo in orbit around the Moon.

As outlined in last weekend’s AmericaSpace history article and the first instalment of this four-part feature, Apollo 10 was a fundamentally critical stepping-stone in evaluating the tools, techniques and technologies needed to bring humans down to the lunar surface.



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