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SpaceX launched the largest rocket in its portfolio earlier today from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon Heavy is the only heavy-lift rocket in SpaceX's portfolio, and after a pause of three years, the rocket made its third flight from the same facility late last year to launch another payload for the United States Space Force. Falcon Heavy uses three Falcon 9s strapped together to generate a massive five million pounds of thrust, and it will soon be the only operational heavy-lift rocket in the U.S. after the United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Delta IV Heavy retires in 2024. Additionally, the Falcon Heavy is also the only heavy-lift rocket that is open for launch, as the Delta IV Heavy's remaining two flights have already been booked.
SpaceX Falcon Heavy Completes Fourth Succesful Operational Launch
When compared to a standard SpaceX launch, which uses the Falcon 9 to launch a variety of different payloads to several unique orbits, a Falcon Heavy launch is always more striking. The rocket is three times as powerful as Falcon 9 since it uses 27 engines in the first stage. These also make for great visuals not only when it launches but also when the first half of the mission ends, when the boosters separate and when they land back on the ground.
As opposed to the previous Falcon Heavy launch in November, during which the launch pad was surrounded by fog, this time around, the Kennedy Space Center provided clear views of the launch pad and the 230 feet tall rocket. This also enabled fiery views of the 27 Merlin engines firing in all their glory as the rocket blasted off from the pad. Like the November launch, the boosters also landed on land; however, this time around, their separation from the primary booster was covered in more detail.
The Falcon Heavy straps two side boosters on the center core, which separate from the core with the latter reusing the journey. SpaceX did not reuse Falcon Heavy's center core for this mission either.
At close to two and a half minutes after liftoff, the two side boosters separated from the main rocket as it traveled at roughly 5,800 kilometers per hour. While the November Falcon Heavy launch only showed visuals of the rockets separating from the sides of the center booster, this time around, SpaceX continued the feed from the ground tracking cameras.
These showed the two rockets racing away from the main rocket as their engines shut off to give the center stage the added velocity to move away safely. After roughly twenty seconds, the side boosters' Merlin engines fired up again to configure them for a land landing. The views showed the rockets appearing as if they were suspended in mid-air,
Finally, roughly eight minutes after launch, the two side boosters landed back on land—the two landings made for the 163rd and 164th successful landings of an orbital class rocket. SpaceX also shared drone footage of the landing, which you can see below.
Drone shot of Falcon Heavy's side boosters landing at LZ-1 and LZ-2 pic.twitter.com/JfYRWDIi1j
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 16, 2023