SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful active rocket, took off amid deep fog at Florida's Cape Canaveral on Tuesday. It was the first launch after more than three years that Elon Musk's business delivered satellites into orbit for the US Space Force.
The rocket was launched from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 9:41 a.m. EDT (1341 GMT). It also consisted of three of the company's modified Falcon 9 first-stage boosters strapped together. On the USSF-44 mission for the U.S. Space Force, the Heavy launched a few sensitive payloads into geostationary orbit. A rocket system carrying several smaller satellites headed for orbit and two Space Force satellites was launched. The Space Force demanded SpaceX stop the live broadcast of the launch soon without showing the deployment of its satellites considering that it had not provided any information about them.
About three minutes after launch, the two side boosters of the Falcon Heavy rocket separated from the rocket's core stage at an altitude of about 29 kilometers (47 miles). They then dove backward for a supersonic free-fall toward the ground.
A few minutes later, the two boosters—each about five stories tall—restarted their engines and nearly touched down on adjacent concrete slabs, to the roars of engineers inside SpaceX's Hawthorne, California, headquarters, as seen on a live stream from the company.
Instead of making an attempt to touch down, the core booster launched the satellites into orbit using all of its fuel.
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy has launched four times overall, with USSF-44 being the first since June 2019. This low flight rate contrasts sharply with the Falcon 9 workhorse of the company, which has, on average, flown more than once per week this year. And while most of those Falcon 9 launches utilized boosters that had already flown, Falcon Heavy was launched using three entirely new first stages.
In the past, SpaceX has attempted to land the main booster of the Falcon Heavy in the Atlantic Ocean using one of its robotic drone ships. However, the core booster for this mission had to forgo landing and potential future re-use in order to devote its full fuel supply to a direct insertion into geostationary orbit, which is located about 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) above Earth. This was necessary due to the mass and orbital requirements of USSF-44's payloads.
When Falcon Heavy made its debut in February 2018, it famously sent SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's cherry-red Tesla Roadster into orbit with a mannequin named Starman strapped into the driver's seat and donning a flight suit similar to that used by Crew Dragon astronauts.
Afterward, in June 2019 for a mission known as STP-2, Falcon Heavy made another flight. In April 2019, it launched the large Arabsat-6A satellite.
Although the Falcon Heavy is the most potent operational rocket in the world, there are two enormous rockets ready to overtake it.
NASA's Space Launch System, or SLS, the rocket is currently being prepared in the imposing Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Centre, which is only a few miles from the launch pad where the Falcon Heavy will be launched. The SLS rocket is currently planned to attempt its first launch later in November to carry out the unmanned Artemis 1 mission around the moon.
At SpaceX's experimental facilities in South Texas, which are located just across the Gulf Coast, the company is finalizing preparations for the first orbital launch attempt of its Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket. Even though federal regulators have not yet given their final approval, the test flight may still happen before the end of this year.
The Space Force, a branch of the US military created under former president Donald Trump to coordinate many of the Pentagon's space-related defense initiatives, used the rocket for the first time on Tuesday's mission.
The development of Starship, a larger and fully reusable rocket intended to eventually replace the company's Falcon fleet, has received a lot of attention from SpaceX and its CEO Musk in recent years. Musk is a multibillionaire entrepreneur whose universe of high-tech companies now includes Twitter, a social media giant.
NASA officials said that SpaceX hopes to launch Starship into orbit for the first time in December.