SpaceX to attempt its most challenging rocket launches to date

Hawthorne-based SpaceX will attempt one of its most challenging rocket launches Monday night, with its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket set to blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida carrying two dozen
satellites into orbit.

The launch will be the third mission for Falcon Heavy, billed as the most powerful rocket in the world.

Falcon Heavy's inaugural test mission last year propelled a cherry-red Tesla roadster with a "Starman'' spacesuit propped behind the wheel into space. In April, the rocket array was used to deploy a 13,200-pound Arabsat-6A communications satellite.

This time, Falcon Heavy will be carrying 24 satellites of varying purposes as part of the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program-2. One of the satellites is a NASA atomic clock, while others are being operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Defense research laboratories and various universities.

The rocket will also be carrying the cremated remains of 152 people whose families paid upward of $5,000 to have up to seven grams of ashes placed onto the spacecraft.

The wide array of satellites in the payload will contribute to making Monday's planned launch more complex than the traditional mission.

"The STP-2 mission will be among the most challenging launches in SpaceX history, with four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of over six hours,'' according to SpaceX.

The launch is scheduled for approximately 8:30 p.m. The 230-feet-tall, 27-engine Falcon Heavy is essentially triple the size of SpaceX's traditional Falcon 9 rockets. According SpaceX, the liftoff thrust of Falcon Heavy is roughly equivalent to 18 full-powered 747 jetliners.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has called Falcon Heavy "the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two and the highest payload launch vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V moon rocket.''

The Falcon Heavy includes a massive center rocket booster, coupled with two side rocket boosters.

During the 2018 launch, SpaceX -- which has become known for recovering rockets for reuse in future missions -- successfully landed the two side boosters back at Cape Canaveral, but it was unable to recapture the center core booster. During the April launch, SpaceX recovered all three rockets.

The two side booster rockets that were used in the April mission will be re-used in Monday's launch.