The Falcon Heavy launch vehicle lifted off around 9:40 a.m. local time from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. This mission, called USSF-44, transports cargo on behalf of the American space force, including a satellite called TETRA 1. A few minutes after takeoff, the rocket’s two boosters returned to land on Earth. The central floor will not be recovered.
Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, the two operational rockets of SpaceX
The Falcon Heavy rocket first flew in a test in 2018, carrying SpaceX boss Elon Musk’s Tesla car. Tuesday was Falcon Heavy’s third operational and commercial flight, with the last one taking place in June 2019.
SpaceX currently has two operational rockets. The first is the Falcon 9, used in particular to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), or to launch the satellites of the SpaceX constellation providing internet from space, Starlink. The second is Falcon Heavy, which is used to launch much heavier payloads or to more distant orbits. The rocket is capable of carrying up to 64 tons into Earth orbit. NASA has notably chosen the Falcon Heavy to launch certain components of its future space station in orbit around the Moon, the Gateway station.
SpaceX is involved in the Moon delay scenario
On its base in Texas, SpaceX is separately developing another rocket, Starship, consisting of a spacecraft mounted on a first stage, named Super Heavy. But this rocket has never flown in its full configuration. Only the ship made suborbital test flights, several of which ended in impressive explosions. Starship was chosen by NASA to land its astronauts on the Moon during the Artemis 3 mission, in 2025 at the earliest.
NASA will first take its astronauts to lunar orbit itself, thanks to its own heavy launcher, named SLS, in development for more than a decade. The first liftoff of SLS, which is to surpass Falcon Heavy and become the most powerful rocket in the world, was twice canceled at the last minute, on August 29 and September 3. A new attempt for this unmanned test flight is scheduled for November 14.