A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a communication satellite lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all 3 boosters

The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today, with 27 engines

SpaceX launched its second supersized rocket and for the first time landed all three boosters Thursday, a year after sending up a sports car on the initial test flight.

The new and improved Falcon Heavy thundered into the early evening sky with a communication satellite called Arabsat, the rocket’s first paying customer. The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today, with 27 engines firing at liftoff — nine per booster.

Eight minutes after liftoff, 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. That’s 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 NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, using the same pad that shot Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago and later space shuttle crews.

READ MORE: SpaceX’s new crew capsule aces space station docking

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 might go wrong. But everything went exceedingly 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,” 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. Musk replied with three red hearts.

Musk put his own Tesla convertible on last year’s demo. The red Roadster — with a mannequin, dubbed Starman, likely still at the wheel — remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars.

The Roadster is thought to be on the other side of the sun from us right now, about three-quarters of the way around its first solar orbit, said Jon Giorgini, a senior analyst at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

A couple dozen ground telescopes kept tabs on the car during its first several days in space, but it gradually faded from view as it headed out toward the orbit of Mars, Giorgini noted.

The Roadster could still look much the same as it did for the Feb. 6, 2018, launch, just not as shiny with perhaps some chips and flakes from the extreme temperature swings, according to Giorgini. It will take decades if not centuries for solar radiation to cause it to decompose, he said.

SpaceX plans to launch its next Falcon Heavy later this year on a mission for the U.S. 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.

Bridenstine said everything is on the space table as NASA strives to meet the White House’s goal of landing astronauts back on the moon by 2024.

NASA’s Saturn V rockets, used for the Apollo moon shots, are the all-time launch leaders so far in size and might.

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.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Shuswap food bank gives away three months of food in one week

High demand in face of COVID-19, Eagle Valley Community Support Society appeals for donations

Second Vernon-area high school exposed to COVID-19

Kalamalka Secondary School staff, students urged to self-isolate if showing symptoms

Salmon Arm asked to identify facilities for isolation in COVID-19 response

Mayor downplays need in city for new bylaw enforcement powers enabled by province

Interior Health Authority to hold virtual town hall with local MLAs

The town hall will run from 6 to 7 p.m. online on March 27

B.C. COVID-19 contact restrictions working, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

’Not out of the woods yet’ as next two weeks are critical

Trudeau announces 75% wage subsidy for small businesses amid COVID-19

This is up from the previously announced 10 per cent wage subsidy

World update, 9:30 p.m. March 27: Positive news in Korea as U.S. hits 100,000 cases

The United States now has the most coronavirus cases of any country in the world

VIDEO: Penguins roam empty halls of Vancouver Aquarium

COVID-19 has forced the Vancouver Aquarium to close access to guests – leaving room for its residents

Kids get back to learning in B.C., online

Ministry of Education rolls out new tool for school

Shuswap History in Pictures: Horse power

A horse and buggy brings two passengers into Sicamous in the 1920s.

67 more B.C. COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Vancouver region

Positive tests found in Surrey, Langley long-term care facilities

‘Now is not the time to bag that peak’: BCSAR manager discourages risky outdoor adventures

Call volumes are not going down, even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists

Food Banks BC already seeing surge in demand due to COVID-19 pandemic

Executive director Laura Lansink said they expect applications will keep increasing

Nanaimo couple caught aboard cruise ship with four dead and COVID-19 present

Four ‘older guests’ have died on Holland America’s Zaandam; cruise line confirms two COVID-19 cases

Most Read