The impressive payload stack in STP-2, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy mission being launched on Monday evening at Kennedy Space Center. Photo: Handout.

When the triple-core Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from hist0ric pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center tonight, the US$750 million mission to deploy 24 small science and technology testbed satellites will include Taiwan’s Formosat-7, CBS news reported.

In so doing, the third flight of the SpaceX rocket, along with the attempted recovery of all three first-stage core boosters – two back at Cape Canaveral and one on an off-shore droneship – will help certify the powerful rocket for launching expensive high-priority national security payloads, a major milestone for SpaceX.

Managed by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Test Program 2 – STP-2 – launch is currently targeted for 2:30 am EDT and broadcast on Forecasters predicted an 80% chance of acceptable weather.

“STP-2 is the government’s first launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy vehicle, and is one of the most challenging missions the Space and Missile Systems Center has ever launched,” said Colonel Robert Bongiovi, director of the Air Force Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate, the report said. “We’re putting 24 research and development satellites into three separate orbits, with a first-ever four engine start and burn of the second stage.”

Stacked in a dispenser inside the Falcon Heavy’s nose fairing, the payloads include an ultra-accurate atomic clock that NASA is testing to improve deep space navigation; six satellites sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Taiwan that will help improve tropical weather forecasting; and experimental propulsion technology provided by NASA that uses less-toxic but more powerful “green” propellants.

According to the island’s Central News Agency, Formosat-7 is the result of a Taiwan-US agreement on technical cooperation signed in 2010, and jointly implemented by the Taiwan National Space Organization (NSPO) and the NOAA.

It will collect a number of different measures of data including atmospheric temperature, humidity and pressure. Experts believe it will increase the accuracy of Taiwan’s weather forecasts by at least 10%, and the amount of data collected for regional weather forecasts and ionic observations by three to four times, the report said.

In keeping with Taiwan’s technological rivalry with China, it was reported earlier this year that the nation has also set eyes on the moon in a future space program to launch a lunar probe that will put it among the ranks of countries that have sent spacecraft to the earth’s natural satellite.

The Formosat-7 weather satellite prior to it being shipped to Kennedy Space Center for launch aboard Falcon Heavy. Photo: Handout.

Monday’s liftoff will come, coincidentally, just 42 minutes after the planned landing of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan carrying three crew members back to Earth after a six-and-a-half-month stay aboard the International Space Station, CBS news said. NASA planned to provide television coverage of both missions on its satellite TV network.

Other payloads, several built by students, will study how Earth’s magnetic field and charged particles in the near-space environment affect sensitive electronics and communications. Twelve small “Cubesats” are on board, including one provided by the Planetary Society to test solar sail technology, using the pressure of sunlight for propulsion.

Packed into a three-unit Cubesat the size of a loaf of bread, the solar sail will unfurl to the size of a boxing ring and, if all goes well, catch enough sunlight to climb up to three tenths of a mile per day without the use of traditional thrusters and propellant.

Also on board for the STP-2 mission: small portions of the cremated remains of 152 space enthusiasts being sent into orbit by their families through Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, a company that provides launch opportunities for clients who opt for burials in space and what the firm’s website describes as “a uniquely compelling memorial experience.”

Among those being “launched” (Celestis calls them participants), are former NASA astronaut Bill Pogue, Japanese basketball star Masaru Tomia, and spaceflight historian Dr James Busby, reported. The company has 15 such launches under its belt, including famed Star Trek “Scotty” actor James Doohan in 2012.

SpaceX hopes to recover all three of the $160 million rocket’s first-stage core boosters. The two previously flown side boosters will attempt synchronized side-by-side landings back at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, CBS news reported.

An eye-catching spectacle in daylight, the nighttime launch and landings promise an even more dramatic show.

Last week, company CEO Elon Musk tweeted that this will be the company’s most ambitious launch attempt so far. Analysts say that’s because of the range of orbits the satellites need to reach.

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