The United States Space Force (USSF) awarded SpaceX a military contract in February 2019 to launch two payloads atop a Falcon Heavy rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission, referred to as USSF-44, was previously planned for this year, it has been rescheduled until February 28, 2021, according to Vice Commander of the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Brigadier General Jason Cothern.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is the most powerful operational launch vehicle in the world. The rocket is made up of three modified Falcon 9 first-stage boosters connected side by side; Its 27 Merlin 1D engines are capable of producing 5.1 million pounds of thrust at liftoff (pictured below). Air Force officials state the USSF-44 mission will also serve to complete design validation of Falcon Heavy as it propels the payload(s) to geostationary orbit. It will be the fourth flight of a Falcon Heavy rocket and the first operational national security mission to fall under the new U.S. Space Force military branch.
Image Source: SpaceX
Today, October 5th, SpaceX announced one of the side boosters that will conduct the mission, underwent a test ignition to prepare for the launch. -- "A Falcon Heavy side booster that will support the USSF-44 mission for the Space Force next year completed a full-duration static fire test last week at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas," the aerospace company stated via Twitter. A static-fire test is a routine pre-flight preparation, in which the rocket booster's nine Merlin engines are briefly ignited for a few seconds, then shutdown to assess the launch vehicle's performance. The other pair of Falcon Heavy boosters will undergo the same process.
A Falcon Heavy side booster that will support the USSF-44 mission for the @SpaceForceDoD next year completed a full-duration static fire test last week at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas pic.twitter.com/jZACfDtMxG— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 5, 2020
The military’s Space and Missile Systems Center stated the USSF-44 launch will deploy two military payloads into geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of about 22,236 miles above Earth’s surface, along the equator. One of the payloads is a mystery due to the national security nature of the USSF-44 mission, no details have been released by the military. The other payload is a microsatellite called TETRA-1. It is manufactured by Millennium Space Systems, a subsidiary of Boeing located in El Segundo, California.
The TETRA-1 satellite is the first prototype to earn a contract under the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Enterprise Consortium Other Transaction Authority (OTA) charter. In April, the company announced in a press release: “Less than 15 months after contract award, Millennium Space Systems has designed, manufactured, assembled, and integrated the U.S. Space Force TETRA-1 satellite. The work was completed 60 percent faster than previous missions, improving the U.S. Space Force’s ability to advance the TETRA-1 technologies more quickly.” Mark Cherry, Vice President and general manager of Boeing Phantom Works, announced TETRA-1 is ready for deployment – “The pace set on TETRA-1 from contract award through readiness to launch represents what Boeing does best for our national security customers. Our lean Millennium team was up to the task, building and delivering a fully tested and verified satellite in record time,” he wrote in a statement released in April by Boeing. U.S. Space Force has not released official details about the TETRA-1 satellite’s functions; According to Millennium Space Systems, the TETRA-1 satellite was manufactured to “prototype missions and tactics, techniques and procedures in and around geosynchronous Earth orbit.”
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.