The Falcon Heavy central core booster lands on a drone ship stationed hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. (Via SpaceX live stream)
More than a year after SpaceX sent its Falcon Heavy rocket on a majestic test launch, the second Falcon Heavy put a satellite in orbit today for its first customer.
Back in February 2018, the test payload was SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with a mannequin nicknamed Starman in the driver’s seat.
This time around, the payload was the 13,200-pound Arabsat-6A satellite, which is destined to go into geostationary orbit to provide telecommunications services to the Middle East, Africa and Europe through the Saudi-led Arabsat consortium.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 11, 2019
Woohoo SpaceX. Go go go! Spectacular! pic.twitter.com/6CupUOZClX
— Bill Nye (@BillNye) April 11, 2019
The Falcon Heavy’s liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center created a spectacle, just as it did during the maiden launch. A huge cloud of exhaust went up from the three Falcon 9 rocket cores that were yoked together to provide more than 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust.
Minutes after launch, the two side cores dropped away and descended to make separate touchdowns at two landing zones on the Florida coast, not far from the launch pad. Their return was heralded by a fusillade of sonic booms.
Meanwhile, the central core booster pushed onward. After stage separation, that booster landed successfully on a drone ship stationed hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Falcons have landed pic.twitter.com/BGQRNuYMVH
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 11, 2019
The first Falcon Heavy’s central core missed its landing at the end of last year’s mission, due to the fact that it ran out of ignition fluid before the final engine burn. The SpaceX team made sure to add more fluid this time.
Arabsat-6A was due for its deployment about a half-hour after launch. Assuming all goes according to plan, the satellite will go through a series of maneuvers to reach its final 22,000-mile-high orbit.
Falcon Heavy is designed to launch large commercial payloads into high orbits, take on heavy-duty national security missions and potentially power interplanetary missions as well.
In recent months, the rocket has been given greater consideration for tasks such as sending a NASA probe to Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter, or launching spacecraft elements that could eventually make their way to lunar orbit.
But Musk’s long-term vision is to build an even more powerful two-piece launch system, known as Starship and Super Heavy, which could conceivably render the Falcon 9 as well as the Falcon Heavy obsolete.
Axios reported Thursday that SpaceX is raising up to $510 million in new funding.