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SpaceX's next Falcon Heavy flight will launch the ashes of over 100 people into space

By Koh Wanzi - on 24 Jun 2019, 3:43pm

SpaceX's next Falcon Heavy flight will launch the ashes of over 100 people into space

Image Source: SpaceX

The Falcon Heavy will attempt its first ever nighttime launch on 24 June at 8.30PM Pacific Time, or 11.30AM on 25 June in Singapore (you can watch the livestream here). Elon Musk's SpaceX has made no secret of its ambitious plans to ferry payloads into space or even reach Mars, and the upcoming Falcon Heavy launch will carry a handful of exciting new technologies into space and, wait for it, up to over 100 cremated remains. 

Tuesday's launch marks the third time the Falcon Heavy will lift off, this time with a total of 24 satellites from agencies like NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Defense. This launch is particularly challenging because all of these satellites need to be dropped off to their intended orbits, which comprises three separate orbits over the course of six hours. This means the Falcon Heavy will need to reignite its engine up to four times, leading CEO Elon Musk to tweet that it would be their "most difficult launch ever"

The new technologies the Falcon Heavy is ferrying into space could potentially become invaluable tools in space exploration in the future. One of the satellites is carrying a small mercury-based atomic clock dubbed the Deep Space Atomic Clock. Existing mercury-based clocks can be as large as a refrigerator, which makes them unsuitable for spaceflight. And while today's GPS satellites already use smaller atomic clocks, these are based on elements like cesium or rubidium, which can get embedded in the walls of their containers and lead to loss of accuracy over time.

Image Source: SpaceX

However, if the Deep Space Atomic Clock proves that it can work reliably in space, that could open the door for it to be included on ships heading out from Earth. 

Right now, engineers on Earth send a ping to the craft and wait for a response, and that relay time helps them figure out where the ship is. But this can be a long process, and makes the ship dependent on Earth for navigation. However, if these vehicles had their own tiny atomic clocks, engineers could ping the ship and have the onboard atomic clock calculate where they are based on how long it took to receive the signal. The ultimate goal would be for a spacecraft to be able to navigate and change directions by itself. 

Another satellite is carrying NASA's "green" propellant, part of its Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM). NASA is testing out an alternative to hydrazine, the current propellant of choice for most satellite engines. Unfortuantely, hydrazine is really toxic and reactive, which means it needs to be transported and handled with a ton of care. On the other hand, the green propellant, or hydroxylammonium nitrate, is a lot safer. It's also denser, so satellites will be able to carry up to 50 per cent more fuel into space. However, it burns really hot – up to 1,800°C compared to 900°C for hydrazine – so new materials, parts, and technologies need to be developed to accomodate the extra heat. 

The Falcon Heavy will also provide a platform for the Planetary Society to test out LightSail 2, a spacecraft designed to sail through the cosmos on particles of light coming from the sun. This technology has already been proposed as a way for small crafts to reach other star systems, including Alpha Centauri. It doesn't require any fuel at all, so satellites could take advantage of it to free up room for more instruments. 

Finally, SpaceX will take over 100 cremated remains into space, courtesy of spacelfight memorial company Celistis. These canisters will orbit Earth until they make a fiery re-entry into our atmosphere again, literally going out in a blaze of glory.

Source: SpaceX

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