Apr 11, 2019 - Science

SpaceX launches (and then lands) its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket — the most powerful rocket flying today — lofted a communications satellite to orbit from Florida on Thursday evening, before coming in for a soft landing back on Earth.

Why it matters: While SpaceX's first Falcon Heavy launch in February 2018 was a successful proof of concept, this launch marks the first time the rocket has actually delivered a payload to orbit for a paying customer. It also is the first time the Elon Musk-founded company successfully recovered 3 rocket stages at once.

After sending the satellite to orbit, the rocket's three boosters — two side boosters and a core stage — turned around and came back down for landings on Earth.

  • The two side boosters landed back on solid ground in Florida, while the core stage landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • These rocket landings aren't just for show, they're a big part of SpaceX's business plan, which centers on landing, refurbishing and reflying boosters in order to drive down the cost of launching to space.

Details: Before landing, Falcon Heavy delivered the communications satellite Arabsat-6A to space for Saudi Arabia.

  • This rocket represents an upgrade from the first Falcon Heavy that launched a Tesla Roadster to orbit last year. According to SpaceX, the modified rocket generates about 5 million pounds of thrust during launch.
  • The Falcon Heavy is basically three of the company's Falcon 9 rockets strapped together.

The bottom line: This successful launch could help SpaceX garner more customers for its Falcon Heavy rocket. While the Falcon 9 consistently launches payloads to orbit every month or so, the Falcon Heavy is the new rocket on the block.

  • Although the big rocket has a few missions on the books for the Air Force, Inmarsat, and Viasat, commercial missions like this one will go a long way toward proving its reliability.

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