Well, now it just looks like SpaceX is just showing off. Just over a month after its Crew Dragon capsule mated with the International Space Station in the first commercial docking with the ISS, it successfully launched and landed its Falcon Heavy for mission Arabsat-6A. This is the same Falcon Heavy that launched a cherry-red Tesla into orbit, giving its driver, Starman, one of the coolest road trips in history.
The megarocket, which stands 230 tall, is the most powerful rocket currently in operation. Launching off of Pad 39A, the Falcon Heavy launched its first commercial payload, a satellite for the Saudi Arabian company Arabsat which will deliver television, radio, Internet, and mobile communications to customers in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Built by Lockheed Martin, this is the first satellite for the company as part of a batch of contracts worth $650 million.
“Life cannot just be about solving one sad problem after another,” Musk said after the experimental launch. “There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity. That is why we did it. We did for you.”
Following booster separation, the Falcon Heavy’s two reusable side boosters landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone-ship, stationed in the Atlantic. During a demo flight, the center booster crashed after running out of fuel, but all ran smoothly for Thursday’s flight. Later on Thursday, Elon Musk said that both payload fairings were recovered. With an individual price of $6 million per, SpaceX plans to reuse these in for a Starlink mission at a later date.
Since SpaceX launched Starman, they have seen a boon in the number of orders for its Falcon Heavy: five contracted missions, three of which are commercial, as well as a $130 million contract to lift the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite.
In a Wednesday tweet, Elon Musk said that the Falcon Heavy uses the new Block 5 version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which launched its initial voyage last year. Musk said that Block 5 adds “some risk of failure between 5% to 10%,” as “the changes are unproven” even with “many good design improvements.”
Beyond that though, the Block 5 upgrades add nearly 10 percent more thrust to Falcon Heavy compared with the demo mission last year. And while previous versions of the Falcon 9 were meant to only fly two or three times, the Block 5 should be capable of launching as many as 10 times with no refurbishment between flights.
The launch was originally scheduled for the day prior, on April 10, but was scrubbed due to high-altitude shear winds.