The world’s largest operating rocket provided an extra treat on November 1, the morning after Halloween, when the first Falcon Heavy since 2019 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, still shrouded in eerie fog.
Less than 10 minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s side boosters returned for a successful, near-simultaneous landing near the launch pad.
The nuclear booster was dumped at sea after the classified payload was on its way to orbit for the US Space Force. The Falcon Heavy mission, designated USSF , lifted off from Field 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 9:43 a.m. ET (6:43 a.m. PT) carrying a prototype military microsatellite called TETRA-1 and a larger, unconfirmed satellite.
The mission was originally planned for 2020, but unknown payload problems pushed it back several times.
Shortly after SpaceX’s big triple rocket lifted off from Earth for the first time in 2018, Elon Musk’s even bigger Starship rocket and its companion Super Heavy booster, which NASA hopes will return astronauts to the moon, appeared to be forgotten and what Musk dreams of building a Martian society.
But the biggest muscle in the SpaceX garage that actually reached space is still the Falcon Heavy. Its first flight sent Tesla to the red planet in 2018. He flew two more times, both in 2019. The Falcon Heavy is basically three Falcon 9 boosters bolted together with triple thrusters. Although the assembly is less powerful than the late Artemis I Space Launch System or NASA’s Starship and Super Heavy, it is currently the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
Two more Falcon Heavy missions are expected in 2018: the launch of the powerful communications satellite Arabsat 6A; and the US Air Force Space Test Program 2, a flight that will also launch The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 solar sail.
SpaceX’s flight schedule also includes future Falcon Heavy missions to launch satellites for Inmarsat and Viasat companies.
So Musk expects SpaceX to fly many Falcon Heavy rockets—enough to get the boosters certified to launch heavy satellites for the US military’s national security missions. SpaceX launched its first Falcon 9 missions for the military in 2017.
“We have several commercial customers for the Falcon Heavy,” Musk said. “I certainly don’t think that would be in any way an impediment to the adoption of national security missions.”