Tuesday saw the launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a variety of top-secret U.S. Space Force payloads. This was the rocket’s fourth flight and the first since 2019 for the country’s most potent operational launcher to feature breathtaking side-by-side landings of its two strap-on boosters.
Liftoff of the massive rocket from the Kennedy Space Center’s historic pad 39A occurred at 9:41 a.m. EDT. The enormous rocket’s 27 Merlin first-stage engines, nine in each of three side-by-side Falcon 9 boosters, burst with more than 5 million pounds of thrust, or the equivalent power of 18 747 jumbo aircraft.
The 230-foot-tall Falcon Heavy, weighing in at over 3.1 million pounds, was launched after the last round of lightning-fast computer checks, roaring upward over the Atlantic Ocean in a straight ascent that shook the earth to an orbit 22,300 miles above the equator.
NASA’s massive Space Launch System booster is set to surpass the Falcon Heavy as the most powerful operational rocket in the U.S. arsenal when it launches for the first time later this month to carry an unmanned Orion crew capsule around the moon and back.
When SpaceX’s enormous Super Heavy Starship ultimately takes off on its first flight in the latter part of this year or early in the next, the title of the most powerful rocket will be passed to it.
Nevertheless, Falcon Heavy did not let us down. It put on a spectacular sky show as it emerged from the spaceport’s dense fog atop a bright jet of flaming exhaust, the noise of its 27 engines breaking the stillness of the morning.
The two side boosters for the Falcon Heavy, each on its inaugural flight, were designed to turn around shortly after separation and restart three engines each to change directions. In preparation for the descent down into the thick lower atmosphere, another discharge retarded the rockets.
Sonic booms reverberated throughout Florida’s Space Coast as the rockets plummeted toward the earth, reignited their central core engines, extended landing legs, and then landed side-by-side on concrete pads at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
The landings represented SpaceX’s 150th and 151st total successful Falcon-family booster recoveries, as well as the 24th and 25th at the Space Force station.
The core stage of the Falcon Heavy, which was also making its debut flight, utilized all of its fuel to lift the second stage into orbit in contrast to the side boosters. There were no rehabilitation plans.
The Falcon Heavy rocket that carried the payload was used for the first time by SpaceX to launch a fully functional, specialized national security payload. However, there were few specifics available about the sensitive payload, and SpaceX concluded its launch commentary with a side booster landing.
Walt Lauderdale, the mission director for the USSF-44 flight, stated in a pre-launch statement, “We’ve worked side by side with SpaceX to ensure the Falcon Heavy satisfies all our criteria and has a successful launch.”
“The launch of these cargoes into orbit will be the first Falcon Heavy mission in more than three years. This launch marks a significant turning point in a strong collaboration that is establishing a capacity that will benefit the country for many years to come.”
In the second stage nose cone, two payloads were stacked on top of each other. One was called the Shepherd Demonstration, and the other was called the Long Duration Propulsive ESPA, or LDPE 2, and it carried six smaller payloads.
According to a statement from the Space Force, “the LDPE platform is a standardized satellite bus that may house various payloads, including detachable spacecraft.” This strategy “takes numerous measures to accelerate the USSF’s migration to new, more robust space technologies and makes ridesharing more accessible for a broad variety of minor and secondary payloads.”
Falcon Heavy’s side boosters have landed – marking the 150th and 151st recovery of orbital class rockets pic.twitter.com/vK4ZdfDQtX
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 1, 2022
According to the Space Force, the Shepherd Demonstration satellite “holds payloads that mature technology and speed risk reduction efforts,” in answer to an inquiry regarding its purpose.
No information was supplied, however, a spokeswoman claimed that the satellite was carrying various payloads from the Space Force.
A cherry red Tesla Roadster with a spacesuit-clad mannequin in the driver’s seat was the Falcon Heavy’s infamously infamous first cargo to be launched on its maiden flight in February 2018. The rocket’s two outboard boosters carried out faultless side-by-side landings that attracted attention from all across the globe.
A total of 27 more efficient Merlin engines (three per core stage) were used on the second launch in April 2019, with the upper stage being powered by a single engine. All three core boosters were retrieved by the firm; the third was found by an offshore drone ship, and the other two were retrieved with landings at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
In June 2019, The Heavy made its third flight, launching a number of Air Force and commercial satellites into orbit. This mission earned The Heavy formal Pentagon approval for specific national security missions. There are presently two such flights in SpaceX’s manifest, the first of which was the USSF-44 flight that took off on Tuesday.
Source: CBS News