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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.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

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:

Go deeper

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse under scrutiny for elite club affiliations

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in February. Photo: Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Image

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement Wednesday that he is a member of an exclusive Rhode Island sailing club that lacks diversity.

Why it matters: Whitehouse has repeatedly spoken out against systemic racism and come under scrutiny this week for his family's affiliation with elite clubs. This is the second such club accused of lacking diversity that the senator has been linked to in recent days

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Border Democrats want migrants vaccinated

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.) Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some Democrats representing border districts want President Biden to vaccinate migrants crossing into the U.S. — especially if he lifts public health restrictions that have prevented them from claiming asylum on American soil.

Why it matters: Inoculating migrants treads a fine line of protecting the U.S. population while possibly incentivizing more migration with the offer of free COVID-19 vaccines. Republicans are likely to pounce on that.

3 hours ago - World

State Dept. fears Chinese threats to labor auditors

A space for media is designated by Chinese authorities near a mosque in the Xinjiang region of China. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department is concerned organizations performing supply-chain audits in China are coming under pressure from Chinese authorities.

Why it matters: U.S. law prohibits importing products made through forced labor, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to verify whether products from China are tainted.