The Falcon Heavy launch vehicle took off around 9:40 a.m. local time from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. This mission, called USSF-44, carries cargo on behalf of the US Space Force, including a satellite called TETRA 1. Minutes after takeoff, the rocket’s two boosters returned to land on Earth. The central floor will not be restored.
Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, the two operational rockets of SpaceX
The Falcon Heavy rocket first flew in a test in 2018 with SpaceX chief Elon Musk’s Tesla car. Tuesday was Falcon Heavy’s third operational and commercial flight, with the last taking place in June 2019.
SpaceX currently has two operational rockets. The first is the Falcon 9, which is mainly used to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) or to launch the satellites of the SpaceX constellation that provides Internet from space, Starlink. The other is the Falcon Heavy, which is used to launch much heavier payloads or to more distant orbits. The rocket is capable of carrying up to 64 tonnes into Earth orbit. In particular, NASA has chosen the Falcon Heavy to launch certain components of its future space station into orbit around the Moon, the Gateway station.
SpaceX is involved in the lunar delay scenario
At its base in Texas, SpaceX is separately developing a second rocket, Starship, consisting of a spacecraft mounted on a first stage, called 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, no earlier than 2025.
NASA will first take its astronauts to the moon in orbit around itself, thanks to its own heavy launch vehicle, called SLS, in development for more than a decade. The first lift of the SLS, which will surpass the Falcon Heavy to become the most powerful rocket in the world, was twice canceled at the last minute, on August 29 and September 3. Another attempt at this unmanned test flight is scheduled for November 14.