SpaceX launches its most powerful operational rocket on Tuesday morning

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy takes off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on November 1, 2022, carrying a payload reserved for the US Space Force (SpaceX)

SpaceX successfully launched the world’s most powerful operational rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday morning.

Despite dense fog in the early morning, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket took off into space from Launch Complex 39A at 9:41 am EDT carrying USSF-44, a US Space Force classified payload destined for geosynchronous orbit. It was the first launch for the Falcon Heavy in three years and the third for the large heavy-duty rocket since its debut in 2018, when a Falcon Heavy launched a Tesla roadster into space – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is also CEO of the electric car company.

The Falcon Heavy rocket is roughly equivalent to three of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets tied together to create a larger and more powerful main stage. Where a single Falcon 9 rocket can launch around 20,900 pounds into low Earth orbit, the Falcon Heavy can lift more than 140,000 pounds into low Earth orbit.

Like the Falcon 9 rocket boosters, the Falcon Heavy boosters are reusable. Two of the three boosters from Tuesday’s launch returned to Earth on their own, marking 150th and 151st recovery of orbital-class rockets by the company.

While Falcon Heavy launches were rare, SpaceX launched Falcon 9 rockets at a rapid pace, sending astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, launching SpaceX Starling satellites and other commercial payloads. Tuesday’s launch is 50th rocket launch for SpaceX only in 2022.

The Falcon Heavy may not hold the title of the most powerful operational rocket for much longer.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will be the most powerful rocket to fly since the Apollo program’s Saturn V of the 1960s if it takes off from Kennedy Space Center on Monday, November 14, as NASA hopes. That launch will carry the Artemis I mission, an unmanned test flight of the Orion spacecraft that, paired with the SLS, will return NASA astronauts to the moon in 2025.

The version of the SLS rocket that will launch Artemis I will generate 8 million pounds of thrust and can carry more than 209,000 pounds in low Earth orbit.

SpaceX, meanwhile, is working to surpass both NASA and itself. The company’s Starship spacecraft, still under development, will generate 12 million pounds of thrust when paired with the new Super Heavy Booster and lift 200,000 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit.

Starship will be the largest rocket ever flown if launched.

Years of technical and regulatory delays have led SpaceX to continually postpone the date of a first orbital test flight for Starship. In February, Musk expected a launch date in March, but in September he recalibrated, suggesting the flight could arrive by the end of October.

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