- The launch was the second-ever for the Falcon Heavy.
- The rocket has 5 million pounds of thrust.
- SpaceX and other companies are focused on returning humans to space.
SpaceX nailed the launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket and landing of three boosters Thursday, marking yet another historic milestone for the company and the space industry as a whole.
The Falcon Heavy, with 27 engines and 5 million pounds of thrust, is twice as powerful as any other rocket currently in operation and could be used to send astronauts back to the moon. It is also paving the way for a new rocket,the Falcon Super, which SpaceX says could one day fly missions to Mars.
The launch was the second for the Falcon Heavy, coming a little over a year after last year’s maiden voyage that shot a Tesla into orbit as a test of the rocket’s abilities.
“Congratulations to @SpaceX on today’s successful launch and landing of the Falcon Heavy rocket! From our iconic launch pads at @NASAKennedy, we will continue to support the growing commercial space economy,” NASA tweeted Thursday evening.
The rocket lifted off at 6:35 p.m. from Kennedy Space Center’s iconic Launch Pad 39A, the same spot that launched the Apollo 11 mission to the moon 50 years ago this July. Thousands of tourists and locals alike crammed beaches, shorelines and parking lots to watch the Falcon Heavy as it soared through a clear blue sky over the Atlantic Ocean.
Two of the boosters stuck their landing eight minutes later at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, sending four sonic booms vibrating across the Space Coast. The third landed as planned on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Love You” drone ship floating several thousand miles offshore.
SpaceX routinely lands boosters from its Falcon 9 rockets on land or on the ship, but this was the first time three boosters landed successfully. The boosters will likely be reused in other launches, a hallmark of SpaceX’s rocket technology.
In the Falcon Heavy’s first launch last year, two boosters landed successfully at the air force station, but the third missed its mark on the ship and landed in the Atlantic.
SpaceX also recoveredthe fairings– or nose cone. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the nose cone would be reused as early as next month on the company’s first plannedStarlink missionto launch a vast network of communications satellites.
The Falcon Heavy was carrying the ArabSat 6A, a Saudi Arabian communications satellite and the rocket’s first-ever commercial payload.
At 13,000 pounds, the satellite is modest compared to the141,000 poundsof payload the Falcon Heavy can handle. Or as SpaceX puts it: The Heavy can carry a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel.
NASA’s transformation of Kennedy Space Center into amulti-user spaceportwith private tenants has fueled a modern-day space race of sorts between private corporations including SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing and others who are competing to build the first rockets or crew capsules that could launch humans back into space for the first time since the last Space Shuttle mission in 2011.
Ofeight launchestentatively scheduled for the rest of the year at the space center, at least five of those involve tests of rockets or capsules designed to carry crews. Besides endeavors to the moon and beyond, manned rockets could ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Center, a mission that used to be carried out by the Space Shuttle. Currently, the U.S. relies on Russia to fly American astronauts, while SpaceX holds a lucrative contract to fly several resupply missions to the station every year.