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Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Tuesday will launch the first Falcon Heavy mission in over three years, a towering rocket that is the most powerful currently in service.
SpaceX’s rocket launches the secret USSF-44 mission for the US Space Force, which is also Falcon Heavy’s first operational national security mission. The most recent launch was the Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission in June 2019, which carried experimental satellites on a demonstration flight for the Pentagon.
The mission is scheduled to lift off at 9:41 a.m. ET from a launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
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While Falcon Heavy’s base is reusable, the company only intends to land the side pair of the three rocket boosters – with the central core dropping into the ocean as with conventional rockets to meet the Space Force’s high-performance requirements for that mission.
The Falcon Heavy rocket for the USSF-44 mission taxis to the launch pad on October 31, 2022.
The pause in Falcon Heavy launches — the company has completed three since the rocket’s debut in February 2018 — is largely due to customer compliance with its schedule.
This USSF-44 mission was originally scheduled for late 2020, and two other Falcon Heavy missions scheduled for this year, one for Space Force and the other for NASA, have customer payloads that are also pending. There is a backlog of about a dozen missions for Falcon Heavy to come.
SpaceX continues to launch its Falcon series of rockets at high speed, with Tuesday’s mission marking the company’s 50th launch this year. At the same time, however, the company continues to work on the even larger Starship rockets, which it hopes will replace them.