Falcon Heavy: Arabsat 6A Launch Date, SpaceX Preparations, and Stakes

Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, may soon take to the skies again for its first commercial launch. Late in January, SpaceX filed a submission to the Federal Communications Commission requesting that Falcon Heavy’s second launch take place no earlier than March 7 and no later than September 7. Now, the potential launch date has reportedly been revealed.

The reported plan is to launch Falcon Heavy as early as April 7 at 6:36 p.m. Eastern from the Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, reported CNBC on March 15. The mission is dubbed Arabsat 6A and would launch a communications satellite built by Lockheed Martin into orbit for Saudi Arabian company Arabsat.

Arabsat 6A was originally slated to launch as early as the second half of 2018, but this launch was delayed several months. SpaceX still needs to conduct a static fire test to assess the performance of the the 27 Merlin engines that power Falcon Heavy’s three cores. The company is aiming to complete this major step toward take off as soon as March 31, reported Teslarati Thursday.

Falcon Heavy Launch
Falcon Heavy takes off for the first time on February 6, 2018.

If preparations go off without a hitch, SpaceX will be ready to complete a mission that could prove Falcon Heavy’s usefulness as a unique launch vehicle in the aerospace market.

What’s at Stake for Falcon Heavy?

So far, Falcon 9 has proved to be a commercial home run for SpaceX. It launched 21 times last year, and became a crucial part of the infrastructure that puts satellites in orbit and sends supplies to the International Space Station. SpaceX wants to recreate the same magic with Falcon Heavy with an eye toward even more ambitious projects.

Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 first stages bundled together. It can lift a 140,600-pound payload into lower Earth orbit — almost triple Falcon 9’s capacity — and could carry a 7,720 lb. satellite to Pluto. SpaceX wants organizations like NASA to use Falcon Heavy to send probes to far off corners of the solar system or, perhaps, supplies to Mars. Think of it like the Uber XL to Falcon 9’s Uber X.

Commissioning Falcon Heavy will likely cost substantially more than Falcon 9. But SpaceX has a plan for reusability that is currently being refined.

Falcon Heavy landing February 2018
Falcon Heavy's two side-boosters land simultaneously after its maiden voyage.

What Happened During Its Last Launch?

Falcon Heavy’s maiden voyage took place February 6 2018, and sent Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, along with a crash test dummy known as “Starman,” into an elliptical orbit of Mars and Earth.

It was a textbook takeoff achieved just 45 minutes before the launch window closed. The launch culminated years of work on the part of SpaceX, and showed the world that the company had indeed built the world’s most powerful rocket.

Just like the Falcon 9, SpaceX attempted to recover all three of Falcon Heavy’s first stage cores. Reusing Falcon 9’s first stage booster saves the company roughly $46.5 million per launch. Recovering all three of Falcon Heavy’s cores would be triple figure.

During its initial launch, SpaceX successfully recovered its Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters that touched back down on Earth simultaneously. But the central core wasn’t so lucky.

Falcon Heavy's test payload launched into space.

Will the Falcon Heavy Be Ready?

Final preparations are currently underway. During its test launch, the rocket’s middle booster crashed in the Atlantic Ocean instead of landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship, as it was supposed to.

Musk explained that some of the return engines failed to ignite during the landing, which caused the core to plummet into the Atlantic at about 300 miles per hour. Ultimately, it was a pretty short miss, as the core clipped its target by about 300 feet. Unfortunately, the crash destroyed two engines on the drone ship and filled the deck with shrapnel.

The big goal for Arabsat 6A will be to successfully land all three of Falcon Heavy’s boosters. This would prove that the launch vehicle could be commercially viable for future mission without being overly expensive.

It’s almost time for Falcon Heavy’s comeback and it could be even more astonishing this time around.