We have liftoff! NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, along with the agency’s DSOC (Deep Space Optical Communications) technology demonstration, launched from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10:19 a.m. EDT.
The Falcon Heavy’s 27 Merlin engines are generating more than 5,000,000 pounds of thrust, quickly pushing the vehicle through the atmosphere and away from the Florida spaceport. The Falcon Heavy first stage consists of three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together – two sides and a central booster. An upper second stage atop the central booster carries the Psyche spacecraft.
SpaceX will land the side boosters in about eight minutes at Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, nearby Kennedy.
Coming up next, the launch vehicle will reach Max Q, or moment of peak mechanical stress on rocket, followed by booster engine cutoff just over a minute later.
10:22 a.m. – Launch Vehicle Reaches Max Q, Booster Engines Cutoff
The Falcon Heavy passed Max Q, or the moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket, and reached booster engine cutoff (BECO), where both boosters cease firing and separate from the center core to begin their descent back to Earth. They have begun their journey back to Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, which will be followed in a few minutes by separation of the central booster from the second stage that carries the Psyche spacecraft.
10:25 a.m. – Separation of First and Second Stages, Second Engine Starts
Just moments ago, the first and second stages of the Falcon Heavy center core separated, and the second stage engine started.
10:28 a.m. – Successful Landing of Side Boosters
The side boosters from the Falcon Heavy have landed successfully at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 and Landing Zone 2 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, nearby Kennedy Space Center.
10:29 a.m. – Second Stage Engine Cutoff Reached
The initial second stage engine cutoff (SECO-1) is complete. The second stage engine will restart for its second burn (SES-2) in just about 44 minutes. This second burn (SECO-2) will give the Psyche spacecraft the additional thrust needed to escape Earth’s gravity, after which the spacecraft will separate from the second stage. The deployed Psyche spacecraft will then continue its roughly six-year journey to the asteroid Psyche.
11:23 a.m. – Psyche Spacecraft Separates From Falcon Heavy Second Stage
The Psyche spacecraft separated from the SpaceX Falcon Heavy second stage. Psyche mission control has acquired the carrier wave signal, which provides real-time data prior to deployment of the spacecraft’s solar arrays and before full acquisition of signal, expected in the next few hours.
While NASA’s DSOC (Deep Space Optical Communications) – integrated on the Psyche spacecraft – will begin its demonstration in the weeks after launch, the tech demo will not relay Psyche mission data. The success of each project is evaluated independently of the other.