People watch as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from launch pad 39A at NASAs Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 2019 in Titusville, Florida
People watch as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from launch pad 39A at NASAs Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 2019 in Titusville, Florida

SpaceX successfully launches most powerful rocket in world – before landing boosters back on the ground

'What an amazing day'

Andrew Griffin
Friday 12 April 2019 10:50
Comments

SpaceX has successfully launched the most powerful rocket in the world, and then landed its boosters back down on the ground again.

The Falcon Heavy rocket has now conducted its first ever commercial mission, part of a plan to eventually conduct regular private launches up into space.

And Elon Musk's space company hopes to make those missions cheaper by landing the rockets back on the ground so they can be re-used.

This time around it was carrying a communication satellite called Arabsat, the rocket's first paying customer.

Eight minutes after lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, SpaceX landed two of the first-stage boosters back at Cape Canaveral, side by side, just like it did for the rocket's debut last year.

The core booster landed two minutes later on an ocean platform hundreds of miles offshore - the only part of the first mission that missed.

"What an amazing day," a SpaceX flight commentator exclaimed. "Three for three boosters today on Falcon Heavy, what an amazing accomplishment."

The Falcon Heavy soared from the space centre using the same pad that shot Apollo astronauts to the moon half a century ago and later space shuttle crews.

Nearby beaches and other prime viewing spots were packed with tourists and locals eager to catch not just the launch but the rare and dramatic return of twin boosters, accompanied by sonic booms.

The roads were also jammed for Wednesday night's launch attempt, which was scuttled by high wind.

Because this was an upgraded version of the rocket with unproven changes, SpaceX chief Elon Musk cautioned in advance things could go wrong.

But everything went well and the satellite ended up in the proper orbit.

SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Southern California cheered every launch milestone and especially the three touchdowns.

"The Falcons have landed," Mr Musk said in a tweet that included pictures of all three boosters.

NASA offered swift congratulations.

"From our iconic launch pads at NASAKennedy, we will continue to support the growing commercial space economy," NASA tweeted.

The launch comes a year after Mr Musk put his own Tesla convertible on the initial test flight.

The red Roadster - with a mannequin, dubbed Starman, likely still at the wheel - remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars.

SpaceX plans to launch its next Falcon Heavy later this year on a mission for the US Air Force. The boosters for that flight may be recycled from this one.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine last month suggested possibly using a Falcon Heavy - and another company's big rocket - to get the space agency's Orion capsule around the moon, minus a crew, in 2020.

But the preferred method remains NASA's own Space Launch System mega rocket - if it can be ready by then.

SpaceX typically launches Falcon 9 rockets. The Falcon Heavy is essentially three of those single rockets strapped together.

Until SpaceX came along, boosters were discarded in the ocean after satellite launches. The company is intent on driving down launch costs by recycling rocket parts.

Additional reporting by agencies

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in