After a few delays, SpaceX launched its second Falcon Heavy rocket yesterday evening. This was SpaceX’s first commercial Falcon Heavy launch, as last year’s test payload was Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster. Another important distinction: All three of the Falcon Heavy boosters returned safely to Earth. In 2018, the center stage crashed into the ocean.
The rocket is getting all the attention, but SpaceX wasn’t just launching it for fun. There was a real payload to deliver into orbit, the Arabsat-6A. This telecommunications satellite will service areas of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. The second stage carrying the satellite separated as planned shortly after launch, and SpaceX later confirmed successful deployment in geostationary orbit.
So, the mission was a success, but the Falcon Heavy itself is much more interesting than another satellite in orbit. In 2018, the two side boosters landed safely at Cape Canaveral Air Force base. The center stage failed to reignite all its engines and hit the ocean at more than 300 miles per hour. This time, everything went off without a hitch. The side boosters landed almost simultaneously at Landing Zones 1 and 2, and the center stage came back down shortly after that on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You.”
Landing rockets has become routine for SpaceX. It was less than four years ago when it completed the first successful Falcon 9 landing on a Cape Canaveral launch pad. Now, it’s landing three boosters in a single mission, one of which is in the middle of the ocean. All three boosters in this launch are based on SpaceX’s newest Falcon 9 chassis, known as Block 5. These rockets are optimized for reusability, offering quicker turnarounds for refurbishment and re-flight.
Successful deployment of Arabsat-6A to geosynchronous transfer orbit confirmed—completing Falcon Heavy’s first commercial mission! pic.twitter.com/KeKTP99xvv
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 11, 2019
SpaceX’s reusable designs make the Falcon Heavy an appealing way to get large payloads into space. It’s the most powerful launch vehicle in service right now, and the $ 90M price tag is about a third of what United Launch Alliance charges for the Delta IV Heavy. SpaceX already has another Falcon Heavy launch planned for June, a US Air Force mission called STP-2 that consists of dozens of small satellites. The side boosters from yesterday’s launch are slated to be reused for that mission.
While the Falcon Heavy is finally making waves, most of SpaceX’s operations are based on the standard Falcon 9. It’s also moving toward a future when all its services will revolve around the Starship and Super Heavy platform.