In a major milestone for the company, SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon Heavy rocket today.
The Falcon Heavy was first proposed in 2011 just after the first flights of Falcon 9 had been completed, however, it has taken seven years for the rocket to go from the drawing board to flight. During that time SpaceX has made a number of significant improvements to the Falcon 9 that have made some of the flights that were originally planned for Heavy possible on Falcon 9. The final iteration Block 5 is due to start flying later this year which could improve performance even more, however, at present we don’t have details to specify by how much.
Now that Falcon Heavy is operation SpaceX has the most powerful currently active rocket in the world with 5.1 million pounds of thrust. This version flew with the older Block 3 setup, future variants could be even more powerful.
Due to the design of the Falcon Heavy and SpaceX’s ability to land their core stages we had the privilege of watching two landings today. The two side booster separated from the rocket at 2:33 minutes into the flight and returned to the Landing Zones at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The center core continued to power the flight until 3:09 minutes before separating from the upper stage and attempting a landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Of Course I Still Love You”. At present we don’t have a status on the center core, we will update the article once we hear more news from SpaceX.
UPDATE – It is looking increasingly likely that the center core didn’t survive the landing, we will post an official statement from SpaceX once we have it.
In another first for SpaceX, the upper stage will coast for six hours before performing a third burn which will send the payload on a hyperbolic orbit towards Mars. To enable SpaceX to win contracts for launches directly to Geostationary Orbits, they need to demonstrate the ability to restart the stage once it has traveled through the Van Allen Belts that surround the planet.
For this launch Elon Musk has placed his Ruby Red Roadster on top of the upper stage, aboard the car is a dummy wearing a SpaceX spacesuit.
Elon confirmed that the 2nd burn of the upper stage was successful, we will find out in approximately 5 hours if the 3rd was too.
Upper stage restart nominal, apogee raised to 7000 km. Will spend 5 hours getting zapped in Van Allen belts & then attempt final burn for Mars.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 6, 2018
This was the 3rd launch for 2018 and because two cores landed successfully the 4th landing **
This was the 49th launch since Falcon 9 started flying and 25th landing.
** The GovSat1 launch didn't land on the ASDS, however, the core did survive and we are counting that as a successful landing.