SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Carries Out 1st Commercial Mission

Enlarge Image The SpaceX Falcon Heavy sits on the launchpad in Florida.                  SpaceX

More than a year after SpaceX sent its Falcon Heavy rocket on a majestic test launch, the second Falcon Heavy put a satellite in orbit today for its first customer.

In the 2018 test mission, Falcon Heavy's core booster missed the vessel and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. This time SpaceX will be carrying a payload for Saudi Arabia's Arabsat, a satellite services provider.

The webcast should begin about 20 minutes before the rocket's anticipated liftoff.

SpaceX has delayed the launch of its newest mega rocket because of dangerously high wind.

Since then, the United States military and private clients have signed contracts for Falcon Heavy launches, and NASA has raised the possibility it may use the rocket for its planned missions to the Moon.

Until SpaceX came along, boosters were discarded in the ocean after satellite launches.

"The Falcons have landed", SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted. The red Roadster - with a mannequin at the wheel - remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars. The boosters can then be refurbished and used again, which SpaceX says drastically reduces the cost of spaceflight. Followed about two minutes later by the center core's bullseye drone ship landing, both side boosters once again performed a near-simultaneous recovery at SpaceX's Cape Canaveral Landing Zones. It will include coverage of the landing attempts and satellite deploy.

Lockheed Martin built the satellite, along with a second one, for Arabsat as part of a batch of contracts worth $650 million. Known as a supersynchronous (perhaps ultrasynchronous?) transfer orbit, the extremely high apogee - nearly three times higher than the nominal circular orbit Arabsat 6A is destined for - will help the satellite reach that orbit far sooner than it otherwise would.

That was back when SpaceX was still expected to test Falcon Heavy later that same year.

SpaceX has pulled off an incredible feat, successfully recovering all three of Falcon Heavy's Block 5 boosters shortly after the rocket's commercial launch debut. Although SpaceX has made "many good design improvements" from the rocket that launched 14 months ago, Musk said there is a 5 to 10 percent chance of failure with this mission. The Falcon Heavy is essentially three of those single rockets strapped together.

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