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Success! SpaceX’s ‘most difficult launch ever’ includes Cal Poly satellites, space sail

Watch SpaceX launch Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base

See time lapse video showing the SpaceX rocket launch from Vandenberg as an airplane lands at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.
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See time lapse video showing the SpaceX rocket launch from Vandenberg as an airplane lands at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.

Update June 25: SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched at 11:30 p.m. last night Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On board was the LightSail 2, scheduled to unfurl in two weeks with ground support from Cal Poly.

Update 8:50 p.m., June24: The massive Falcon Heavy rocket is sitting on a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, but isn’t quite ready to go. The original four-hour launch window was to begin at 8:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. That has been pushed back three hours to 11:30 p.m., according to Space.com.

The mission will carry two dozen satellites into orbit, including for NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration The Planetary Society and universities, including Cal Poly.

Original story: SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket — the most powerful launch vehicle currently in operation — is set to launch Monday evening carrying two dozen different satellites for the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program-2.

Carried in the nose of the megarocket will be the results of work by Cal Poly students and aerospace engineers, according to a news release from the San Luis Obispo university. They helped install small satellites in the spring-loaded boxes that will nudge them into space.

Those include Cal Poly’s latest CubeSAT satellite — called Launch Environment Observer (LEO) — as well as a softball-size satellite built by Florida high school students, and The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2, a citizen-funded project that educator, engineer and TV presenter Bill Nye “The Science Guy” called a potential game changer for low-cost interplanetary space travel.

The Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to launch sometime in a four-hour window that opens Monday at 8:30 p.m. Pacific time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Viewers can watch the launch live at www.spacex.com.

After launch, Cal Poly’s PolySat club will serve as ground station for several satellites, including acting as the primary ground station during the LightSail 2 “flight by light” mission to test a sail about two weeks after launch. Cal Poly has worked with The Planetary Society on the LightSail project since 2010.

The LightSail 2 spacecraft is about the size of a loaf of bread. Packed inside a Mylar sail about the size of a boxing ring, which, when unfurled, is meant to harness photons from the sun to propel the spacecraft, the news release said.

5x7_alicia johnstone measures lightsail2 2018.jpg
Aerospace engineer Alicia Johnstone with CubeSat at Cal Poly measures the Lightsail 2, a CubeSat meant to demonstrate solar sailing within low Earth orbit, developed by The Planetary Society. Courtesy of Cal Poly

The CubeSAT will work to measure and record telemetry data from within the deployer box during launch, and will continue to orbit for several months, transmitting telemetry data to Cal Poly’s ground station and then taking photos and training students for future missions.

CubeSat are miniature satellites intended for low Earth orbit. CubeSat technology was created by former Cal Poly professor Jordi Puig-Suari and Stanford professor Bob Twiggs in 1999.

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, said on Twitter that Monday’s launch will be SpaceX’s “most difficult launch ever.”

The rocket will attempt to deliver payloads, including some belonging to the Air Force, into three different orbits — requiring multiple re-lights of the engine, according to technology website Ars Technica.

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