Inside the White House with D.C.'s most wired reporter. Sign up for Mike Allen's Axios AM.

Stories

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.

Go deeper: