SpaceX lands all three Falcon Heavy rocket boosters in first paid mission

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has launched its first-ever mission for a paying customer—Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat.

The rocket which took off Thursday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida just after 6 pm ET delivered a pricey communications satellite into orbit and managed to land all three rocket boosters after launch for the first time.

Arabsat 6A (A Lockheed Martin-built satellite as part of batch contracts worth $650 million) will update satellite coverage for Arabsat, which is based in Riyadh and delivers hundreds of television channels and radio stations to homes across the Middle East, Europe and North Africa.

The center core booster on a drone ship in the Atlantic Image: SpaceX
The center core booster on a drone ship in the Atlantic Image: SpaceX

Only two outer cores made it back to earth in one piece the first time Falcon Heavy flew back in February 2018. The centre core of that launch missed its target drone ship when it failed to light all three engines needed to land because of fuel shortage. Although the rocket booster slammed into the ocean at 300 miles per hour, the synchronized booster lander has become one of the most iconic images of the launch.

However, the successful SpaceX launch managed to stick all three landings and all three boosters used for this flight are upgraded versions of SpaceX’s rockets, Block 5—a version made to optimize reusability, making it easier for the company to land the vehicles and then turn them around quickly for future flights. Reusable hardware is part of Falcon Heavy’s appeal.

 

The rocket is by far the most powerful operational launch vehicle in the world and a plus when it comes to price at $90 million which is a third of the price of its closest competitors, United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy—a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. With its latest ultra-powerful rocket, SpaceX will be competing with its rival for lucrative contracts that require heavy-lift launch vehicles and has already been chosen for a few contracts, including a 130 million dollars contract to launch a US Airforce satellite.

The Falcon Heavy is expected to be used primarily for US military missions, and to launch spy satellites and hefty commercial telecom satellites.

Opeyemi Olugbemiro

Your tech story amazes me. When you think of a tech innovation that makes life better, you've caught my attention. #SerialOptimist Contact: opeyemi@zumalo.com

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