SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle successfully undertook its first commercial mission today, taking a communications satellite to orbit and proving the viability of its heavy-lift rocket platform. And as a piece de resistance, all three rocket cores autonomously landed themselves back on Earth and will soon be ready to fly again.
The mission is still underway, but the most dangerous moments are over with, and the system passed with flying colors. It’ll be some time before the next second stage burn and separation from the payload, at which point the mission will be considered a success.
Update: Arabsat-6A has detached in the desired orbit and the mission is a success!
The launch is a powerful endorsement of Falcon Heavy, which provides far more payload capacity, at far lower cost, than any competitor. New launch vehicles are being tested by SpaceX’s numerous competitors, but Falcon Heavy has the advantage of already existing and working as designed.
All planned launch events went as planned, though high winds delayed takeoff yesterday. After takeoff at about 6:35 local time in Cape Canaveral, the two first stages detached and made a picture-perfect landing at LZ-1 and LZ-2; the center core landed on the the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. The latter was a bit of a nailbiter, as the video cut out just as the center core booster’s retro began to light the pad. But good signal a handful of seconds later revealed the final third of the trifecta.
It must be said that the crowd was going absolutely wild basically from T-0 to T+10 minutes, when the center core landed. Landing all three has never been done, and drone ship landings have led to some of SpaceX’s most public (not to say embarrassing) failures.
No word on whether SpaceX caught or attempted to catch the fairings that covered the payload during launch — we may hear about this later, depending on whether it’s a success or not.