The upcoming SpaceX launch of the Falcon Heavy will be a key milestone for the rocket’s commercial and military prospects.
The Falcon Heavy performed a static-fire engine test Friday on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Fla., a day later than planned.
The SpaceX launch had been scheduled for Sunday, but it now looks like it will be pushed back. Showers and thunderstorms are also threats on Monday or Tuesday, according to meteorologists. The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, which is in charge of launches at Cape Canaveral, tweeted that the new launch date would be Tuesday but then deleted the post.
Whenever the SpaceX launch takes place, it will be the first one for the Falcon Heavy with a paying customer and the first for a commercial client.
The rocket, which is two times more powerful than any other operating today, had its maiden flight in February 2018. Its payload then was CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla (TSLA) Roadster, which is now in deep space traveling along an elliptical Mars orbit.
For the first commercial SpaceX launch of the Falcon Heavy, the rocket will carry a communications satellite built by Lockheed Martin (LMT) for the Saudi Arabian company Arabsat.
SpaceX will also attempt to recover all three of the first-stage boosters: two on land and one on a drone ship. Last year, the center-stage booster missed the drone ship and crashed into the ocean, while both side boosters landed safely.
Lockheed shares rose 1% to close at 302.58 on the stock market today.
Falcon Heavy SpaceX Launch Key For Air Force
The Air Force will be closely watching the Falcon Heavy launch. While SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 9 rocket has been cleared for national security missions, the Falcon Heavy still must prove itself to the Pentagon.
The military has said that three Falcon Heavy launches are needed before flying a national security mission.
After the Arabsat mission, another SpaceX launch of the Falcon Heavy is due in June, when the Air Force will use it for a non-national security mission. That launch will include research payloads for NASA and private institutes, like the Planetary Society’s LightSail.
The SpaceX launch manifest includes another Falcon Heavy mission for Viasat, but it’s unclear when that will take place.
The missions lead up a mid-2020 SpaceX launch for the Air Force, which will put a classified national security payload on the Falcon Heavy. SpaceX won the $130 million contract, beating legacy launch provider United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed-Boeing (BA) joint venture.
Heavy-Lift Rocket Market
But even if the Falcon Heavy launches go well, the market for large payloads that would need such a heavy-lift rocket could be diminishing as the focus turns to small satellites.
The Air Force announced Thursday that it has bought five small launches from Rocket Lab, Vox Space and others, for $25 million as it looks to send 21 test small satellites into space this year.
Still the market for military launches, while relatively small, is lucrative, Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project and the director of Defense Budget Analysis at CSIS, told IBD earlier.
Large spy satellites with telescopes for high-resolution imagery as well as antenna arrays for signals intelligence will need heavy-lift rockets.
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