SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket set for first nighttime launch

FILE PHOTO: SpaceX is attempting to launch 24 satellites into orbit atop its Falcon Heavy rocket at its first nighttime launch Monday. (Photo: SpaceX)

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FILE PHOTO: SpaceX is attempting to launch 24 satellites into orbit atop its Falcon Heavy rocket at its first nighttime launch Monday. (Photo: SpaceX)

SpaceX is just days away from one of its most challenging missions to date as it attempts to launch 24 satellites into orbit atop its Falcon Heavy rocket.

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This will be the first nighttime launch for Falcon Heavy, scheduled for liftoff around 11:30 p.m. Monday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

After the launch, the rocket’s center core will attempt to land on a drone ship and side boosters will attempt to land back at the Cape, producing a sonic boom.

“This is the first night launch of a Falcon Heavy,” said Dale Ketcham with Space Florida. “And a Falcon Heavy gets everybody's attention, anyway. It's too bad they couldn't have pulled it off on a Saturday night -- that would've been a zoo.”

Monday night's launch is also the first Falcon Heavy launch for the Department of Defense and the payloads include NASA's Space Environment Testbed experiment to study how to better protect satellites in space.

The mission marks the beginning of what is shaping up to be a busy summer for the Space Coast.

“We do have a nice busy time coming up through the holiday that will have the SpaceX launch, a ULA launch early Thursday morning and then the particularly exciting ascent abort test for the Orion crew capsule that will be early on the morning of July 2,” Ketcham said.

The Orion flight test will demonstrate whether the launch abort system can activate, steer the spacecraft, and carry future astronauts a safe distance if an emergency arises during its climb into orbit.

“There's going to be a lot of activity, a lot of tourism, a lot to watch. Hopefully it all works well, and that's what we're here for,” Ketcham said.

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