During the recent ViaSat-3 launch on a Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX released the protective spacecraft fairing at the highest altitude ever attempted. Therefore, the fairing reached incredible speeds during its fiery re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere. Fortunately, there was a camera on board so we could watch. At one point, the one half of the fairing was traveling 15 times faster than the speed of sound, releasing a trail of plasma in its wake as it returned to Earth.
A fairing is a nose cone used to protect the spacecraft payload against the impact of dynamic pressure and aerodynamic heating during launch through Earth’s atmosphere. When the fairing is jettisoned, it separates into two halves.
In a first, this Falcon Heavy mission used a previously flown fairing. It was recovered to hopefully be used again, as it made a soft-water landing under parachute in the Atlantic Ocean.
The mission launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday, April 30. The primary payload was the broadband ViaSat-3 Americas satellite, and two smaller satellites were sent directly to geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO). Because of needing to boost the payloads to GEO and expending all the fuel, the rest of the rocket was not retrievable.
ViaSat-3 Americas is the first of three new geostationary communication satellites that together are intended to provide continuous near-global broadband service to 99% of the populated world.
The two smaller payloads are the Arcturus satellite to provide broadband services to the state of Alaska, and G-Space 1, a cubesat from Gravity Space.
As of now, the Falcon Heavy is scheduled to launch three more missions this year. An Air Force classified mission called USSF-52 is scheduled for launch no earlier than June 23, while the Echostar 24 (Jupiter 3) Ka band satellite will fly no earlier than August 2023. The NASA Psyche asteroid mission’s launch is targeted for October 5, 2023.