Launch timeline for Falcon Heavy’s maiden flight

SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy rocket is set for liftoff Tuesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the heavy-lift launcher will head on an easterly course over the Atlantic Ocean atop nearly 5 million pounds of thrust.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket is poised for launch from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida between 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT) at 4 p.m. EST (2100 gMT) Tuesday during a 150-minute launch window.

SpaceX will attempt to place a test payload — Elon Musk’s road-worn Tesla sports car — on an Earth escape trajectory into heliocentric orbit around the sun.

Read our Mission Status Center for live coverage of the countdown and launch.

Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk tweeted a graphic Tuesday illustrating the various launch and descent maneuvers planned on today’s Falcon Heavy demo flight, including recovery attempts for the three first stage boosters and payload fairing.

The timeline below outlines the launch sequence for the Falcon Heavy’s inaugural flight. A final Earth departure maneuver by the Falcon Heavy’s upper stage is planned around six hours after liftoff to send the Tesla Roadster on a path into the solar system.

Data source: SpaceX

T-0:00:00: Liftoff

The Falcon Heavy’s engine controllers will command nine Merlin 1D engines on each of the rocket’s side boosters to ignite at T-minus 5 seconds, following by start-up of the nine engines on the core stage at T-minus 3 seconds. Hold-down clamps will open to release the Falcon Heavy from launch pad 39A as the countdown clock reaches zero, once the vehicle passes an automated health check.

T+0:01:06: Max Q

The Falcon Heavy rocket reaches Max Q, the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure.

T+0:02:29: BECO

The Merlin 1D engines on the two side boosters shut down a few seconds before booster separation.

T+0:02:33: Booster Separation

The two 15-story-tall side boosters separate from the Falcon Heavy rocket to begin their descent back to Cape Canaveral.

T+0:02:50: Side Cores Begin Boostback Burn

After flipping around to fly tail-first, the Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters each reignite three of their engines to begin their return to Cape Canaveral for landing.

T+0:03:04: MECO

The Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D engines shut down.
The Falcon Heavy’s nine core stage Merlin 1D engines shut down.

T+0:03:07: Stage Separation

The Falcon Heavy’s center core stage separates from the second stage moments after MECO.

T+0:03:15: First Ignition of Second Stage

The second stage Merlin 1D vacuum engine ignites for a five-minute burn to put the rocket and its payload into a preliminary parking orbit.

T+0:03:24: Center Core Begins Boostback Burn

The Falcon Heavy’s center booster reignites three of its engines to begin its descent to SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.

T+0:03:49: Fairing Jettison

The 5.2-meter (17.1-foot) diameter payload fairing jettisons once the Falcon Heavy rocket ascends through the dense lower atmosphere. The 43-foot-tall fairing is made of two clamshell-like halves composed of carbon fiber with an aluminum honeycomb core.

T+0:06:41: Side Boosters Begin Entry Burn

The Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters reignite a subset of their Merlin engines for an entry burn prior to touchdown.

T+0:06:47: Center Core Begins Entry Burn

The Falcon Heavy’s center core stage begins its entry burn targeting SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

T+0:07:58: Side Booster Landing

The Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters touch down at Landing Zone 1 and Landing Zone 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

T+0:08:19: Center Core Landing

The Falcon Heavy’s central core stage touches down on “Of Course I Still Love You,” SpaceX’s drone ship positioned a few hundred miles east of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean.

T+0:08:31: SECO 1

The second stage of the Falcon Heavy rocket shuts down after reaching a preliminary low-altitude orbit. The upper stage and and its payload — Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster sports car — begin a coast phase scheduled to nearly 20 minutes before the second stage Merlin vacuum engine reignites.

T+0:28:22: Second Ignition of Second Stage

The Falcon 9's second stage Merlin engine restarts to propel the SES 9 communications satellite into a supersynchronous transfer orbit.
The Falcon Heavy’s second stage Merlin engine restarts to head into a higher orbit around Earth.

T+0:28:52: SECO 2

The Merlin engine shuts down after a short burn to put the SES 10 satellite in the proper orbit for deployment.
The Merlin engine shuts down after a short burn to raise its orbit, beginning a final six-hour coast before the upper stage engine ignites for a third time.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.