SpaceX Is Sending the Remains of 152 People Into Space. Here's What's on Board Tonight's Falcon Heavy Payload

Tonight, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to launch the cremated remains of 152 people into orbit, part of one of several payloads included in the Department of Defense's (DoD) Space Test Program-2 (STP 2) mission.

The "space burial" is organized by a company called Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, which accepts small ash samples of deceased loved ones—weighing between one and seven grams—and packs them into small metal capsules.

These individual capsules are then placed into a container that is fitted onto a host satellite and sent into space for a price starting at just under $5,000, Business Insider reported.

In this case, the remains have been placed inside the Orbital Test Bed (OTB)—one of 24 satellites being launched by STP-2 developed by various organizations including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) DoD research laboratories, universities and NASA.

This will be the third launch for SpaceX's Falcon Heavy—the most powerful operational rocket in the world. The four=hour launch window will open tonight from 11:30 p.m. EDT, but if conditions at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, are not ideal, lift-off may be postponed.

Aside from the launch of the remains, most of the STP-2 payloads are experiments focused on various aspects of spacecraft design. So what exactly is on board the Falcon Heavy?

Orbital Test Bed

In addition to the cremated remains, the OTB satellite—developed by General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems—also hosts NASA's Deep Space Atomic Clock, a technology demonstration that has the potential to revolutionize how we navigate in space. Accurate to a tenth of a trillionth of a second, the clock could be of huge benefit to future deep space exploration missions.


CubeSats are tiny, cheap, flexible satellites used for space research that can be utilized for a number of purposes. The STP-2 mission will be launching several of these with differing goals, including one known as LightSail 2 that features a novel method of propulsion. LightSail 2 will attempt the first controlled flight in Earth's orbit powered by solar sails, which harness the gentle push of photons (particles of light) in order to propel the spacecraft, in much the same way that conventional sails use the wind.


The Demonstration and Science Experiments (DSX) satellite built by the Air Force Research Laboratory will investigate the region of space known as medium-Earth orbit, which lies between 1,243 and 22,236 miles above sea level.
This harsh environment is filled with radiation, which DSX will study by measuring the interactions of various particles and matter.


A constellation of six satellites designed to collect atmospheric data which can be used to enhance weather predictions, as well as expand our knowledge of the Earth's climate and its gravitational field. COSMIC-2 is the brainchild of an international collaboration involving the Taiwanese space agency, NASA, the NOAA, the U.S. Air Force and other organizations.


The Green Propellant Infusion Mission is a NASA test technology designed to demonstrate an eco-friendlier, higher performance and cheaper alternative fuel for spacecraft propulsion systems.


This 70kg satellite was built by a student organization at Michigan Technological University to conduct experiments aimed at calibrating spacecraft with ground-based observers.


PROX-1 is another miniature satellite built by students at the Georgia Institute of Technology to demonstrate close encounters and interactions between spacecraft. It will also have the responsibility of deploying the LightSail 2 CubeSat.


This satellite, operated by the Naval Research Laboratory, will conduct experiments on space weather and phenomena that can interfere with communications and navigation systems.

Falcon Heavy launch
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is seen after it left launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 2019 in Titusville, Florida. The rocket is carrying a communications satellite built by Lockheed Martin into orbit. Joe Raedle/Getty