Monday, June 24th, 2019 will mark the third launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. It will carry nearly two dozen satellites to space; two of these satellites have been developed by the University of Michigan. The Michigan eXploration Lab (MXL), led by Aerospace Engineering Professor James Cutler has partnered with SRI International to develop and launch the Tandem Beacon Experiment (TBEx), a twin pair of CubeSats each carrying tri-frequency radio beacons, in near identical, low inclination orbits. They will stay close to the Earth, studying how the dynamics and processes in the troposphere can act to cause variability in the behavior of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. Of particular concern are “structured bubbles” in the ionosphere that can disrupt radio signals passing through. MXL, SRI International, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which provided funding for TBEx, seek to understand how the distortions from these bubbles can be mitigated, protecting military, airline, and GPS signals from interference.
TBEx is only one project out of many payloads that will launch on Monday. The mission, dubbed Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) is a Department of Defense venture managed by the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). Payloads carried by the rocket will represent research endeavors by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the DoD, and universities. SpaceX has said that “the STP-2 mission will be among the most challenging launches in SpaceX history” due to its complexity; it will consist of four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits and a total mission duration of over six hours.
Current students and alumni will be in attendance for Monday’s launch. PhD candidate Prince Kuevor, master’s student Paul Knudsen, and undergraduate students Michael Wilson and Dan Gu will watch the launch along with UM aerospace alumni Josh Synowiec and Debra Facktor, Vice President and General Manager of Strategic Operations at Ball Aerospace.
A livestream of the Falcon Heavy launch will be available at https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive. The target liftoff time is 11:30 PM, EDT on Monday, June 24th, 2019.