USA: SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy successfully launched its first operational mission, sticking a triple-rocket landing more than a year after its demo mission catapulted a cherry-red Tesla and a dummy nicknamed Starman into space.
The megarocket, dubbed the most powerful launcher in operation, blasted off at 6:35 p.m. EDT (2235 GMT). It lifted off here from the same site that once hosted NASA’s Apollo moon missions and its fleet of space shuttles: historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. About 34 minutes later, the rocket deployed Arabsat-6A, an advanced communications satellite that will provide internet and communications services to residents of the Middle East, Africa and parts of Europe.
Falcon Heavy’s second flight went off without a hitch at the beginning of a 2-hour window after high upper level winds thwarted SpaceX’s second launch attempt. A day earlier, Falcon Heavy faced a 24-hour delay due to poor weather at the launch pad. A dismal weather forecast for Tuesday (April 9) convinced launch officials to issue a delay rather than face just a 30% chance of favorable weather.
Today’s flight was the first of a Falcon Heavy launch featuring souped-up Block 5 versions of its component rockets. (A Falcon Heavy rocket is built of three Falcon 9 first stages, which are combined to form the 27-engine megarocket.) As the rocket’s first-stage engines roared to life, they fired in unison and spewed smoke and fire around the launch pad.
SpaceX made the transition to Block 5 for its Falcon 9 flights in May, after the demo flight of Falcon Heavy in February 2018. Today’s Falcon Heavy boasted more than 5 million lbs. of thrust, a 10% increase over its predecessor.
In addition to the added thrust, the Block 5 Falcon 9 now features a plethora of upgrades, all of which are designed to facilitate reusability. Previous versions of the Falcon 9 were meant to fly only two to three times; however, Musk says the Block 5 is capable of flying as many as 10 times with virtually no refurbishment between flights.
To achieve that goal, engineers developed a suite of upgrades for the company’s flagship rocket. The design changes — including improved engines, a more durable interstage (the piece that connects the rocket’s two stages), titanium grid fins and a new thermal protection system — were developed to help the rocket better handle the stresses of launch. These technological advances have enabled the company to establish a growing fleet of flight-proven rockets.
Falcon Heavy now has two spaceflights under its belt. Its first mission launched on Feb. 6, 2018, ferrying Elon Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster — with a spacesuit-wearing test dummy named Starman sitting in the driver’s seat — into orbit. The nearly flawless first launch, which included successful landings by two of the Falcon Heavy’s three first-stage boosters, earned SpaceX major accolades.