The launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the first functional use of the Falcon Heavy, which took the Saudi Arabsat-6A communications satellite into orbit a year after carrying one of Elon Musk's Tesla roadsters along for an attention-getting test launch.
Roughly three minutes after clearing the pad, Heavy's two side boosters separated from the core rocket for a synchronized landing at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, sparking boisterous cheers from SpaceX engineers in the company's Hawthorne, California headquarters. In the 2018 test mission, Heavy's core booster missed the vessel and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
"The Falcons have landed" Musk wrote on Twitter, inaugurating the first successful recovery of all three rocket boosters, which will be refurbished and re-fly in another Falcon Heavy mission this summer to carry a swarm of military and science satellites for the Air Force.
The satellite will be deployed approximately 34 minutes after liftoff. The company selected Falcon Heavy in September for a mission anticipated in late 2017 or 2018.
Musk's SpaceX, working to prove the flight-worthiness of its rocket fleet one mission at a time, aims to clinch one-third of all US National Security Space missions - coveted contracts that are worth billions of dollars.
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Until SpaceX came along, rocket boosters were usually discarded in the ocean after satellite launches.
Musk used his own Tesla convertible in last year's demo and the red Roadster - with a mannequin, dubbed Starman, likely still at the wheel - remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars.
Arabsat-6A is a large satellite, weighing 6,460-kilograms. It went off without a hitch. The vehicle, which was carrying a space-suited mannequin nicknamed Starman, was vaulted into outer space and is expected to orbit the sun for the foreseeable future.
Since then, the USA military and private clients have signed contracts for Falcon Heavy launches, and NASA has raised the possibility it may use the rocket for its planned missions to the Moon. "Three for three boosters today on Falcon Heavy, what an unbelievable accomplishment".
It consists of the equivalent of three Falcon 9 rockets combined, tripling its thrust.