For the first time in more than three years, SpaceX launched its gigantic Falcon Heavy rocket, sending U.S. military satellites into orbit. The rocket took off amid heavy fog at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, November 1. A few minutes later, two booster segments returned to Earth, sticking the side-by-side landings back at Cape Canaveral.
This was SpaceX’s 50th launch of 2022 (44 weeks in). That puts SpaceX at a current pace of a launch every 6.10 days, putting the commercial company on track for 59 launches this year. It was also the year’s 70th orbital launch attempt for the US space industry and the 150th for the world.
Liftoff occurred at 9:41 a.m. EDT (6:41 a.m. PDT) from launchpad 39A for the classified USSF-44 mission for the US Space Force. The most recent previous launch for the Falcon Heavy was in June 2019, a Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission that carried experimental satellites on a demonstration flight for the Pentagon.
The Falcon Heavy first flew in 2018, sending SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster as a test payload. The car (and its mannequin passenger, Starman) is still traveling through space, heading on an oblong-shaped trajectory around the Sun that swings out as far as Mars’ orbital path.
While the USSF-44 mission is classified, the US military’s Space Systems Command said in a press release that the launch will put multiple satellites into orbit on behalf of the Space Systems Command’s Innovation and Prototyping Delta, which focuses on quickly developing space technology as it relates to tracking objects in space as well as a range of other activities.
Before the launch, Colonel Douglas Pentecost, the Space Systems Command’s Deputy Program Executive Officer for Assured Access to Space said, “We’re getting close to launch day, and we’re totally pumped! This will be our first National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Falcon Heavy, and the first Falcon Heavy since STP–2 over three years ago. Our launch and mission assurance team and SpaceX, along with the fantastic crew at Space Launch Delta 45, have done an absolutely superb job preparing this rocket. We put important national capabilities into space to address the threat, and working together we ensure one hundred percent mission success.”
Falcon Heavy has not been used recently, since the majority of SpaceX’s missions don’t require the heavy lifting of the Falcon Heavy’s ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb). SpaceX says that Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, as it can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy. Falcon Heavy is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft.
SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket has launched 49 missions so far this year.
Originally published on Universe Today.