ViaSat-3 Americas | Falcon Heavy

Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)
May 1, 2023 00:26 UTC
April 30, 2023 20:26 EDT
Mission Name
ViaSat-3 Americas and Arcturus
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
(Who’s paying for this?)
Astranis Space Technologies and ViaSat
Falcon Heavy; B1052-8 (MY), B1053-3 (PY), B1068-1 (center), 237.93, 1,405.75, and N/A turnaround time, respectively
Launch Location
LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA
Payload mass
6,700 kg (15,000 lb)
Where are the satellites going?
Geostationary Earth orbit
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Where will the first stage land?
All three boosters will crash into the Atlantic Ocean
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
Yes, Doug will attempt to recover the fairing halves ~1,960 km downrange
Are these fairings new?
How’s the weather looking?
The weather is currently 80% GO for launch (as of April 29, 2023 at 12:00 UTC)
This will be the:
– 2nd launch of Falcon Heavy in 2023
– 29th mission for SpaceX in 2023
– 6th Falcon Heavy mission ever
– 64th orbital launch attempt of 2023

Furthest fairing recovery attempt at 1,960 km (previous record: 1,537 km on USSF-67)
– Longest turnaround time of a Falcon core ever at 1,405.75 days (previous slowest: 951.70)
Where to watch
Official livestream

Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, will be streaming on launch day; come ask questions and join the conversation live!

What Does All This Mean?

For the second time in 2023, SpaceX will launch the Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Unlike the last Falcon Heavy launch, which featured the landing of the two side boosters back on land, this Falcon Heavy will be fully expended, meaning none of the three boosters will be recovered.

What’s On Board?

Marking the sixth Falcon Heavy mission, SpaceX will launch two payloads, one significantly heavier than the other. The 6,400 kg (14,000 lb) ViaSat-3 Americas satellite will have a smaller companion riding along side called Arcturus, which only weights 300 kg (660 lb). Both of these satellites will be placed into a geostationary Earth orbit.

ViaSat-3 Americas

ViaSat-3 Americas is a massive satellite built by Boeing in California. It shares similar characteristics to the ViaSat-2 satellites launched in June of 2017. The satellites payload is built by ViaSat and integrated onto Boeing’s payload module and the 702 satellite platform. ViaSat-3 Americas is the first of three satellites which will make up the ViaSat-3 constellation.

A wide variety of customers will use the ViaSat-3 constellation including individual homes, businesses, and government agencies. The system can accommodate more than 100 Mbps per user across the target region. ViaSat-3 Americas, as the name suggests, will serve North and South America.

viasat americas, spacex, falcon heavy
Render of the ViaSat-3 Americas satellite (Credit: ViaSat)


The ride-along satellite to ViaSat-3 Americas is Arcturus, a much smaller but very capable satellite that will also be placed in geostationary Earth orbit. Although it only weighs 300 kg, the mighty communications satellite has the ability to provide data throughput up to 7.5 Gbps for the Alaska and the surrounding region.

arcturus, spacex, falcon heavy
The Arcturus satellite during testing (Credit: Astranis Space Technologies)

Arcturus was built by Astranis Space Technologies, who will also own and operate the satellite. One of the satellites main customers is Pacific Dataport.

Being a small and lightweight satellite means that onboard propulsion options are limited. This is the main reason why Astranis chose to launch on a Falcon Heavy, because it can provide direct and precise orbit insertion to geostationary Earth orbit. All the while, acting as a passenger to the much larger ViaSat-3 Americas satellite.

What Is Falcon Heavy?

The Falcon Heavy is SpaceX’s partially reusable two-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle. The vehicle consists of two reusable side boosters, a reusable center core, an expendable second stage, and a pair of reusable fairing halves.

First Stage

The Falcon Heavy first stage contains 27 Merlin 1D+ sea level engines. Each booster contains nine engines, which use an open gas generator cycle and run on RP-1 and liquid oxygen (LOx). Each engine produces 845 kN of thrust at sea level, with a specific impulse (ISP) of 285 seconds, and 934 kN in a vacuum with an ISP of 313 seconds. Compared to a normal Falcon 9 Block 5, Falcon Heavy’s first stage consists of two side boosters and a center core, with the side boosters basically being Falcon 9 boosters with a nose cone on top instead of an interstage. The center core on the other hand is a more modified booster equipped with a booster separation system and modified to handle the increased loads of three boosters.

The Merlin engines are ignited by triethylaluminum and triethylborane (TEA-TEB), which instantaneously burst into flames when mixed in the presence of oxygen. During static fire and launch the TEA-TEB is provided by the ground service equipment. However, as the Falcon Heavy first stage boosters are able to propulsively land using three of the Merlin engines (E1, E5, and E9), which contain TEA-TEB canisters to relight for the boost back, reentry, and landing burns.

Second Stage

The Falcon Heavy second stage is the same as a Falcon 9 version. It contains a singular MVacD engine that produces 992 kN of thrust and an ISP of 348 seconds. The second stage is capable of doing several burns, allowing Falcon Heavy to put payloads in several different orbits.

On this missions, the second stage is equipped with the MEK (mission extension kit) that allows it to support missions with many burns and/or long coasts between burns. This package can have a gray strip, which helps keep the RP-1 warm, an increased number of composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) for pressurization control, and additional TEA-TEB for multiple re-lights of the MVacD engine.

CRS-18, MEK, mission extension kit, falcon 9
SpaceX’s CRS-18 during lift off. The second stage is equipped with the MEK noticeable by the grey stripe on the lower half of the second stage. (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon Heavy Boosters

The boosters supporting the ViaSat-3 Americas/Arcturus mission are B1052, B1053, and B1068, which, in case of the two side boosters, have supported multiple missions prior. Hence, their designation for this mission is B1052-7, B1053-2, This is the first flight for B1068-1. None of the boosters will be recovered.

B1052’s missionsLaunch Date (UTC)Turnaround Time (Days)
Arabsat-6AApril 11, 2019 – 22:35N/A
STP-2June 25, 2019 – 06:3074
CSG-2January 31, 2022 – 23:11951
Starlink Group 4-10March 09, 2022 – 13:4537
Starlink Group 4-18May 18, 2022 – 10:5969
KPLOAugust 04, 2022 – 23:0878
Starlink Group 4-20 and VarunaSeptember 05, 2022 – 02:0931
B1053’s missionsLaunch Date (UTC)Turnaround Time (Days)
Arabsat-6AApril 11, 2019 – 22:35N/A
STP-2June 25, 2019 – 06:3074

Following booster separation, the Falcon Heavy boosters will crash into the ocean and not be recovered.So, there will be no booster landings.

Falcon Heavy side booster landing, Falcon Heavy Demo Flight, landing zone 1, landing zone 2
Falcon Heavy side booster landing at landing zone one and two during its inaugural launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon Heavy Fairings

The Falcon Heavy’s fairing consists of two dissimilar reusable halves. The first half (the half that faces away from the transport erector) is called the active half, and houses the pneumatics for the separation system. The other fairing half is called the passive half. As the name implies, this half plays a purely passive role in the fairing separation process, as it relies on the pneumatics from the active half.

Both fairing halves are equipped with cold gas thrusters and a parafoil which are used to softly touch down the fairing half in the ocean. SpaceX used to attempt to catch the fairing halves, however, at the end of 2020 this program was canceled due to safety risks and a low success rate. On Via-Sat-3 Americas, it is currently unknown if SpaceX will attempt to recover the fairing halves from the water and if so with which vessel.

In 2021, SpaceX started flying a new version of the Falcon fairing. The new “upgraded” version has vents only at the top of each fairing half, by the gap between the halves, whereas the old version had vents placed spread equidistantly around the base of the fairing. Moving the vents decreases the chance of water getting into the fairing, making the chance of a successful scoop significantly higher.

    1. The Viasat-3 satellite has a total bandwidth of 1 Tbps. That’s 1,000,000 Mbps. The article incorrectly states 100 Mbps.

      1. The 100Mbps is *per user*, though the article doesn’t specify how many concurrent users it can support.

      2. This was added, after the above comment. ViaSat does not state number of users as the satellite is yet to be in service. It is anticipated that the satellite can have a throughput of 1 Tbps.

  1. Any insight into why all three boosters are being expended on this launch? I understand that the extra push will allow the satellites to get into their desired orbits sooner and without using as much of their own fuel, but achieving that by dumping 3 perfectly good boosters into the water seems lousy.

    If Falcon Heavy can put 16 tons into GTO while recovering 2 of the boosters, and this mission’s payload is only 6.7 tons, then it seems that even if it can’t push the satellites all the way into GSO, it could still get them significantly closer than a minimum GTO orbit, let the satellites finish the job, and recover 2 boosters.

    What am I missing? Is there a reason SpaceX wants to ditch these boosters?

    1. As mentioned just prior to the “What is Falcon Heavy” they are not using a GTO rather are doing a direct insertion into GEO to save fuel for Arcturus. GTO is typically a HEO orbit that the satellites then have to circularize into a GEO orbit. Here, it seems the upper stage will be carrying the payloads all the way to GEO, similar to the USSF-44 mission. However, since this was a classified payload, there is no mass provided so it is hard to compare. SpaceX then needs to de-orbit the upper-stage, either by placing it in graveyard orbit or send it back to Earth since it can not be left in GEO. This would require a fair amount of fuel and I guess that added enough mass that the Rocket Equation dictated that they all the Falcon Heavy has to offer.

      My other assumption is that the Arcturus satellite does not have the capability to preform the circularization burn needed for a GTO or for an orbit raising burn, and still have enough fuel to complete its mission through the desired lifetime.

      My speculation is also that these boosters are simply old. Both B1052 and B1053 were first launched on the FH-002 Arasat-6A mission April of 2019, making them the oldest boosters in the fleet, with B1053 sitting around for 1401 days since it was last used. It wouldn’t surprise me if SpaceX has newer technologies and methods that they could be using on the newer side boosters (B1064/5 and conversion of B1074/6)

    2. My gues is that it’s what the customer asked and paid for. Not SpaceX’s decision.

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