SpaceX’s fourth Falcon Heavy launch continues to close, as it recently celebrated what appears to be the arrival of one of three new Falcon Heavy boosters to test stationary fires in Texas.
There is a possibility that the enhancer in question is just a regular Falcon 9 first stage, but according to photos taken from the local Resident Reagan, the unusual presence of white space (the composite part of the carbon fiber that contains the mesh fins and second stage diffusers) indicates otherwise.
After several months of inactivity since the first of Three new Falcon Heavy side boosters – ‘Undercover’ with a Falcon 9 interstage rejected – Arriving in SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, the most recent booster will likely be the second of two new Falcon Heavy side boosters needed for a US military launch later this year.
After leaving SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, plant sometime in late August 2020, the devices NASASpaceflight was later confirmed To be the first of three new Falcon Heavy boosters, it moved vertically to the McGregor, Texas platform for enhanced steady firing about a month later. Oddly enough, unlike the other four Falcon Heavy side boosters, which SpaceX has tested over the past several years, this particular core has arrived in Texas with a placeholder between phases instead of a nosecone.
The reason is unclear given that two of the previous side enhancers were stably fired with the nosecones installed. Regardless, since the white intermediate stage of the latest augmented entrant does not appear to have any dedicated centerpiece installed, it is likely the second of two Falcon Heavy Flight 4 side boosters.
If the missile passes these acceptance tests, that will leave two more stages – a dedicated center post and an orbital upper stage – left for charging and testing before SpaceX says it has all the hardware in hand for the fourth launch of the enhanced triple missile. Postponed from the fourth quarter of 2020 to February 2021 in September 2020, the first launch of an all-new Falcon Heavy is known as AFSPC-44 or USSF-44 and will deliver an unspecified U.S. military satellite and one or more payloads for direct flights into geostationary orbit (GEO) – For the first time in SpaceX.
Unless this second side booster is days away from a rapid steady fire test, and the new Falcon Heavy center and upper stage are either in McGregor or days away from Hawthorne leaving, a February 2021 launch target is impossible.
Shortly after the initial launch date was announced on February 28, a US Air Force official presented an updated target, indicating that USSF-44 launches are now expected to be “late spring” – meaning (at least in the US) May or June. 2021. It’s unclear what to blame for the six months or more delays the mission suffered in the past year, but the continuous booster testing is a good sign that things are more or less back on track.