HAWTHORNE — In yet another history-making achievement, Hawthorne-based SpaceX made the first commercial launch of its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket Thursday carrying a communications satellite into orbit, then successfully landed all three of the rocket boosters for reuse in future missions.
The visually stunning accomplishment marked the first time SpaceX has successfully landed three rockets from a single mission. The Falcon Heavy’s two side-booster rockets touched down first in a spectacular side-by-side landing at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Minutes later, the rocket’s central core came to rest upright on a barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The Falcons have landed,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk wrote on his Twitter page, where he shared photos of all three of recovered rockets.
The Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral around 3:35 p.m. California time. The launch had been set for Tuesday, but was first delayed to Wednesday due to bad weather, then pushed to Thursday because of upper-level wind shear.
The launch marked the second-ever flight for a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The massive rocket, which is actually an array of three Falcon 9 rockets, made its debut in February 2018 when it launched a cherry-red Tesla roadster with a David Bowie inspired “Starman” space-suited driver propped behind the wheel on a test mission.
Thursday’s launch, however, was the first commercial use of the Falcon Heavy. The rocket successfully carried the 13,200-pound Arabsat-6A satellite into orbit, providing communications services to areas of Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
The 230-feet-tall, 27-engine Falcon Heavy is essentially triple the size of SpaceX’s traditional Falcon 9 rockets. According SpaceX, the liftoff thrust of Falcon Heavy is roughly equivalent to 18 full-powered 747 jetliners.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has called Falcon Heavy “the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two and the highest payload launch vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V moon rocket.”