SpaceX has just nailed yet another rocket launch, but this one is unusual. Most of SpaceX’s launches utilize the Falcon 9, but this latest mission for the US military’s Space Systems Command required the extra oomph of the Falcon Heavy. This was the first launch in three years for the most powerful operational SpaceX rocket, and it sure puts on a good show.
The standard Falcon 9 has completed 48 launches already this year because its modest payload capacity and robust reliability are all most customers need. The Falcon 9 can hoist about 37,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit with enough fuel left over to land the first-stage booster on one of the company’s uncrewed floating landing pads. The Falcon Heavy, on the other hand, can lift a whopping 141,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit.
The government declined to explain what, exactly, it was launching with the latest Falcon Heavy. All we know is the satellites (USSF-44) are part of Space Systems Command’s innovation and prototyping division, which focuses on the rapid development of space technology. Whatever it is, it weighs a lot. This is only the third operational launch of the Falcon Heavy, not including the 2018 maiden flight during which Elon Musk launched his Tesla Roadster into space. The first mission deployed a massive telecom satellite for Arabsat, and the other was another secret Department of Defense project in 2019.
After a three-year hiatus, the Falcon Heavy is again dazzling with its spectacle. The triumvirate lifted off Tuesday morning (November 1st), and several minutes later, the side boosters came down for a synchronized landing on a pair of pads on the Florida coast. However, the center stage, which is reinforced to support the side boosters, was not recovered. SpaceX has landed all three pieces before, but it seems this launch consumed too much fuel for the center stage to make it back to the surface. The payload was being deployed to a geosynchronous orbit, which requires more fuel than low-Earth.
Falcon Heavy’s side boosters have landed – marking the 150th and 151st recovery of orbital class rockets pic.twitter.com/vK4ZdfDQtX
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 1, 2022
It has been more than a decade since SpaceX first talked about the Falcon Heavy, which was initially seen as the aerospace firm’s next big step after the Falcon 9. Since then, the still-in-development Starship has been put forward as the future of SpaceX. While the Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together, the Starship uses an entirely new design that could be used for missions including low-Earth orbit, planetary transport, and lunar landings. It could even get to Mars and back, a key part of CEO Elon Musk’s claimed goal of sending people to Mars. However, the Falcon Heavy will be used to launch the Europa Clipper mission in a few years.