A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a suite of U.S. Space Force classified payloads took off on Tuesday during the rocket’s fourth flight, the first for the nation’s most powerful operational launcher since 2019 and the first since to feature spectacular landings alongside. side of his two strap boosters.
Partially obscured by thick fog, takeoff from historic Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center took place at 9:41 am EDT when the 27 engines of the huge rocket’s Merlin first stage, nine in each of the three side-by-side Falcon 9 boosters, fired with over 5 million pounds of thrust, the equivalent power of 18 747 jumbo jets.
After a final round of lightning-fast computer checks, the 70-meter-tall Falcon Heavy, tipped to about 3.1 million pounds, was released to roar skyward, heading east over the Atlantic Ocean in a shocking direct. ascent to a circular orbit 22,300 miles above the equator.
The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the U.S. inventory, but that honor is expected to pass to NASA’s massive space launch system booster when it first flies later this month to send a space capsule. unmanned Orion crew around the moon and back.
The title of the most powerful rocket will then be handed over to SpaceX’s giant Super Heavy-Starship when it finally takes off with a maiden flight later this year or early next.
That said, the Falcon Heavy did not disappoint, staging a dramatic sky show as it scrambled out of the mist that blankets the spaceport atop a brilliant jet of fiery exhaust, the roar of its 27 engines shattering the calm morning.
The Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters, both on their first flight, were programmed to overturn moments after separation and restart three engines each to reverse course. Another shot slowed the boosters back into the dense lower atmosphere.
Plummeting to the ground, the boosters restarted core core engines, deployed landing legs, and settled in postcard touchdowns side by side on concrete platforms at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station as sonic booms rumbled across the Space Coast. of Florida.
The landings marked the 24th and 25th at the Space Force station and the 150th and 151st booster recovery of SpaceX’s Falcon family in total.
Unlike the side boosters, the main stage of the Falcon Heavy, also making its first flight, used all of its propellant to propel the second stage out of the lower atmosphere and into space. No recovery was expected.
The launch marked the first fully operational dedicated homeland security payload to fly aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. But details on the classified cargo were scarce, and SpaceX concluded its launch comment with a lateral emergency landing.
“We have worked closely with SpaceX to ensure that the Falcon Heavy meets all of our requirements and has a successful launch,” said Walt Lauderdale, mission director for the launch of the USSF-44, in a pre-launch statement. .
“This will be the first Falcon Heavy launch in over three years and we are thrilled to bring these payloads into space. This launch is an important milestone and continues a strong partnership that is solidifying a capability that will serve the nation for years to come. “
Two payloads were mounted on top of each other in the second stage cone, one known as the Shepherd Demonstration and the other a carrier spacecraft known as the long-life propulsive ESPA, or LDPE 2, carrying half a dozen payloads. secondary.
“The LDPE platform is a standardized satellite bus that can accommodate multiple payloads, including detachable spacecraft,” the Space Force said in a statement. “This approach makes rideshare more affordable for a wide range of small and secondary payloads and takes several steps to accelerate the USSF’s transition to new, more resilient space architectures.”
The Shepherd Demonstration satellite “hosts payloads that mature technologies and accelerate risk reduction efforts,” the Space Force told Spaceflight Now in response to a question about its nature.
A spokesperson said the satellite was carrying more payloads than the Space Force, but no details were given.
The Falcon Heavy was launched on his maiden flight in February 2018, famously increasing a dummy payload: a cherry red Tesla Roadster carrying a spacesuit mannequin in the driver’s seat – into deep space. The rocket’s two outboard boosters performed flawless landings side-by-side, grabbing the attention of the whole world.
His second flight in April 2019 was the first to use three upgraded “block 5” booster cores with 27 more efficient Merlin motors, three per main stage and one upper stage powered by a single motor. The company recovered all three major boosters, two with landings at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the third on an offshore drone ship.
The heavy ones the third flight arrived in June 2019 when the rocket brought a collection of civilian and air force satellites into orbit on a mission that won the Pentagon’s official rocket certification for dedicated national security missions. The USSF-44 flight launched Tuesday was the first of two such missions currently on the SpaceX manifesto.
The longest passenger train in the world makes a record journey in the Swiss Alps
CBS Mornings exclusive offers on products that could become essential in your daily life
Actor, director and writer Lake Bell talks about new audiobook “Inside Voice”