Data Analysis on SpaceX Falcon Heavy’s Missions

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is currently the most powerful operational rocket by a factor of two. It has been launched successfully once on February 6th, 2018 for it’s Demo Mission, when it launched Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster into Heliocentric Orbit. On April 11th, 2019 and Falcon Heavy is about to launch for it’s first commercial payload. Falcon Heavy is also scheduled for another mission, which will reuse all the boosters from tonight’s mission but will have a very light payload, it’s a USAF certification mission called STP-2.

This is Falcon Heavy Demo Mission seconds after launch.
Falcon Heavy right after launch carrying ArabSat 6A.
Falcon Heavy’s Demo Mission as it crosses the speed of sound.
Falcon Heavy ArabSat 6A during the side booster boostback turn.
Falcon Heavy side boosters landing burn during the ArabSat 6A mission.
Falcon Heavy Demo Mission side booster landings.

There is massive variety in these 3 rocket launches. Let’s take the planned center core landing downrange distance. For the Falcon Heavy Demo Mission, the planned landing was going to occur 342km downrange, however it failed due to a lack of the pyrophoric ignition fluid (TEA-TEB), as compared to Arabsat 6A, whose landing occurred at a record-breaking 967km downrange. STP-2, being a light payload to a low-energy orbit, will also have a record-breaking, in the opposite way, landing 37km downrange. The variety in these launches is really interesting and comparing their burn time before BECO (Booster Engine Cut-Off), MECO (Main Engine Cutoff), and SECO-1 (Second Engine Cut-Off 1).

Unfortunately, due to the fact that the STP-2 Mission has not occured yet, the SpaceX REST API does not have the engine cutoff numbers, we can only use the downrange landing distance because that is available through the STP-2 FCC Filing. Here are my results:

Since the new Block V architecture of Falcon Heavy was only flown on ArabSat 6A, and since it has 10% more thrust, I also added another bar chart which adjusts for the added thrust.

And finally, the downrange landing distance for the three missions

Why is this important?

An important part of our species’ development is our advent as a space-faring civilization. It is almost essential that Earth is not our only home. Simply because it is so vulnerable and weak. Climate change has nearly destroyed our planet, studies suggest that it could be impossible for Earth to recover. Other than that, the amount of near-mass extinction events in history are frightening. The Cuban Missile Crisis, both the Tunguska (1908) and Chelyabinsk (2013) asteroids came really close to destroying the entire continent of Asia, and several other nuclear crises throughout the past century alone. There are too many examples to name, but it is a fact that life on Earth is highly unstable as compared to life in space.

Whether it be Jeff Bezos’ view of moving heavy industry to orbit or Elon Musk’s view of colonizing Mars (personally I’m with Musk on this one), it is important to leave this planet. A major part of making space travel widespread is making rocket technology cheap, this means reusing a rocket. When you drive your car across town you don’t throw it away and get a new car once you’re at your destination. Companies like SpaceX aim to have this be the case for rockets. Not only are they saving cost by reusing materials, but they are also saving the environment by keeping use of potential life hazards should they be dropped into the ocean like most other rockets.

Falcon Heavy is currently spearheading this vision of reusable space technology. It is the world’s most powerful rocket by a factor of two, and it’s nearest competitor, the ULA Delta IV Heavy, can deliver 50% the payload mass, and is 388.889% the cost of Falcon Heavy. Falcon Heavy can deliver more massive payloads than any satellite provider currently demands, yet it is twice as cheap as rockets which are less than a quarter as powerful (Delta IV Medium).

SpaceX has single-handedly forced other companies in pursuing reusable technology, including the United Launch Alliance with their upcoming Vulcan rocket, Blue Origin and LinkSpace.

This data here represents the capabilities of Falcon Heavy, and where it stands, the cutting-edge of rocket technology, what it can do, and where it can take us.

SpaceX plans to follow up the Falcon Heavy with BFR (Big Falcon Rocket), also known as Starship Superheavy. It is the full realization of the goal of colonizing the solar system. Making sure that humanity can continue should our flimsy planet encounter a fatal event. The culmination of over almost 2 decades of hard work towards this one goal of preventing possibly the largest existential crisis which we face as a species.

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  1. April 26, 2019 by Hamza T.

    Very interesting and insightful information and analysis. One thing I’m curious about, though, is how this idea came to you, as well as why you thought using python to represent the data would be better than something simpler like Excel. Basically, what was the advantage of using what you learned from the course?

    • April 29, 2019 by Natheir.Abu-Dahab

      Python, and the SpaceX REST API are the most efficient way to get this data, it’s simply a quicker way than doing all the research necessary to find these numbers. The SpaceX REST API is the best free way to get data about SpaceX’s missions, it’s more a showcase of the API than the python language itself. This can be done with Excel, but accessing the data is just easier with Python (that is if you understand python and the structure which the API uses to store data).

  2. April 27, 2019 by James Howe

    This is an incredible article, thank you for sharing!

  3. April 27, 2019 by Samiha.Datta

    This was really interesting, Natheir! I found your thoughts on why we need to travel past our atmosphere and why reusable rocket ships are important quite intriguing.

  4. April 28, 2019 by Eva Batelaan

    This was an interesting article, but I was confused as to the purpose of the three different colors in the top two Cut-off time graphs. I didn’t see a legend or anything with an explanation of what each of the three colors represents. I liked your statistics on what differentiated the Falcon Heavy from other rockets.

    • April 29, 2019 by Natheir.Abu-Dahab

      The cutoff time graph colors are as follows:
      light blue – BECO (Booster engine cutoff), where the side boosters shut down and separate
      regular blue – MECO (Main engine cutoff), where the center core shuts down and separates from the 2nd stage
      dark blue – SECO-1 (Second engine cutoff – 1), where the seconds stage cuts off for the first time.
      From here the mission can go many different ways, Arabsat and the Demo Mission both turned on engines again to insert the payload into a higher orbit, but the demo mission continued burning until the roadster was sent into heliocentric orbit. For a high-mass LEO mission, SECO-1 would be the final engine burn, unless you count the deorbit burn to prevent the 2nd stage from becoming space debris. For STP-2, the upcoming mission, there will be several burns, here’s a full rundown of that mission, since it’s too complicated to explain here: SpaceX STP-2.

      Thanks a lot for the feedback.

  5. April 28, 2019 by Annie Ma

    Wow. This is so interesting and insightful – I learned a lot! I also like how you added so many pictures to your article.

  6. April 29, 2019 by Manav.Shah

    I loved your obvious enthusiasm towards your topic. And I think that the way that you tied this into the fate of the human race really increased the stakes of this article and make it more impactful. Very Epic Article.

  7. April 29, 2019 by Joseph.Wang

    Rocketry must really be one of your deep interests! I found your article very fascinating and out of this world (both literally and figuratively speaking)!

  8. April 29, 2019 by Haley

    Great use of images to educate on rocket launches!

  9. April 30, 2019 by Nikhil Goel

    This was very interesting! I was also a little confused by the diagrams, but your response in the comments helped me to understand the diagrams.

  10. April 30, 2019 by Nikhil Goel

    This was very interesting! I was a little confused by the diagrams, but your comment helped me to understand the graphs. Great work!

  11. May 01, 2019 by Siddhanth Reddy

    This is super interesting! I learned a lot of new information! great use of pictures

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