Watching Falcon Heavy Land is a Glimpse at the Future of Spaceflight

Christopher Davidson
April 13, 2019

Unfortunately, the fairing halves have proven hard to recover.

The most powerful operational rocket on the planet took off at 6.35 p.m. on Thursday from the historic 39A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Centre, the same platform that the Moon missions of the Apollo programme were launched from, and then managed to recover for the first time the three Falcon 9 rocket parts that make up the device, reports Efe news. The first two side boosters managed to land eight minutes after launch, touching down nearly simultaneously (again!) on the company's concrete landing pads along the Florida coast.

The ability to retrieve payload fairings is the latest step in SpaceX's creation of rocket systems that are entirely reusable.

SpaceX constructed a boat with a massive net attached, affectionately called Mr. Steven (pictured), to try to recover the fairings.

The launch marks the Falcon Heavy's second-ever trip to space, as well as its first commercial mission, as the megarocket carried Lockheed Martin's Arabsat 6A communications satellite into orbit.

In the 2018 test mission, Heavy's core booster missed the vessel and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

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After many delays, SpaceX was finally able to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket this week, for just the second time ever.

The success of the Falcon Heavy is also paramount considering NASA's recent announcement that this rocket system could be used as a backup for future missions to the Moon, should the SLS not be ready in time. SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker said during a livestream: "T plus 33 seconds into flight, under the power of 5.1 million pounds of thrust, Falcon Heavy is headed to space". Landing a rocket booster back on the ground so it can be refurbished is one thing, but recovering other parts of the spacecraft, such as the nosecone fairing, helps to boost SpaceX's bottom line even more. The launch was also Falcon Heavy's first commercial endeavor.

The rocket is part of a growing number of launch services at SpaceX, which includes the Crew Dragon that docked onto the International Space Station in March.

SpaceX is now testing a system to recover the fairings of its Falcon 9 rockets.

SpaceX recovered a payload fairing for the first time in 2017.

This was followed two minutes later by the core booster landing at sea aboard the company's droneship, Of Course I Still Love You, which was parked at sea 990 km (615 miles) off the coast of Cape Canaveral.

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