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After many delays, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has finally completed its first commercial launch. It successfully blasted off on its first operational mission yesterday, more than a year after its demo mission sent a Tesla and the Starman dummy into outer space
The most powerful rocket launched to date blasted off at 6:35 p.m. from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Thirty-four minutes later, it deployed Arabsat-6A, a satellite that will provide internet services to residents of the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia.
A Falcon Heavy megarocket consists of three Falcon 9 first stages, combined to form a 27-engine rocket. Yesterday’s flight was the first to use ramped up Block-5 version of the component rockets. The launch boasted more than 5 million lbs of thrust, 10% more than its predecessor.
Block 5 Falcon 9 also has a range of features to improve reusability: while the previous versions of Falcon 9 were meant to fly 2-3 times, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Block 5 can fly as many as 10 times with no refurbishment in between flights.
Design changes to help the megarocket better handle the launch also included improved engines, a more durable connection of the rocket’s two stages, and a new thermal protection system. Yesterday’s landing was successful as well: two side boosters touched down in unison, and the third landed on SpaceX’s drone ship landing pad in the Atlantic. “The Falcons have landed,” Musk tweeted.
This is the second flight for Falcon Heavy, with the first launched on February 6, 2018, when the Tesla Roadster and a spacesuit-wearing dummy named Starman were sent into orbit. Yesterday’s flight demonstrates that SpaceX is ready to continue its launches, including the next Falcon Heavy flight that will carry the Space Test Program 2 mission for the US Air Force and a solar-sail mission for the Planetary Society.