Elon Musk's SpaceX sends world's most powerful rocket on first commercial flight

The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today, with 27 engines firing at liftoff - nine per booster.

The launch, at 22.35 GMT, means that Arabsat now has nine satellites in orbit (which includes two Hellas craft).

Its successful landing of the center core from a Falcon Heavy is a relief for SpaceX after a similar attempt ended in disaster past year. Falcon Heavy's two side boosters landed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It launched into the sky Thursday evening with Arabsat-6A, a Saudi Arabian satellite built by Lockheed Martin and operated by Saudi Arabia. But even more spectacularly, all three stages of the rocket successfully returned to Earth just minutes after launch, proving the Flacon Heavy's reliability.

On Wednesday Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO suggested that a delay was likely due to "upper atmospheric wind shear" and SpaceX confirmed there would be no launch. Then came SpaceX's successful commercial mission into space.

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At 34 minutes after takeoff, the Arabsat-6A satellite was deployed to orbit in what was the Falcon Heavy's first commercial mission. Featuring three brand new Block 5 boosters, this mission also has the potential to redeem a slight anomaly that caused Falcon Heavy Flight 1's center core to be destroyed during a recovery attempt. It was carrying Elon Musk's red Tesla Roadster with the crash dummy Starman at the wheel. This was a success following SpaceX's water landing in a similar maneuver past year.

So, the mission was a success, but the Falcon Heavy itself is much more interesting than another satellite in orbit. This telecommunications satellite will service areas of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. After stage separation, that booster landed successfully on a drone ship stationed hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. That launch was the biggest rocket since the Saturn era ended in the 1970s.

"We needed more lifetime for the satellite, so we had the option: Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, and we chose to go with Falcon Heavy", he said.

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  • Douglas Reid


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