SpaceX launched its mighty Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday morning in a mission that deployed two classified satellites for the U.S. Space Force.
Mission USSF-44 got underway from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 9:41 a.m. ET in what was only the fourth launch for the Falcon Heavy, and its first since 2019.
The Falcon Heavy is the world’s most powerful operational rocket and comprises SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket as the core booster, plus two additional Falcon 9 boosters attached to either side of the core.
Around eight minutes after launch, the two side boosters returned as planned, making a perfect touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center a short distance from the launchpad. This was the first launch and landing of these particular boosters, which will be prepared for re-flight on another U.S. Space Force mission later this year. The Falcon Heavy’s core booster was not recovered.
SpaceX livestreamed much of the mission, though as the flight dealt with classified satellites, the video feed was cut soon after stage separation.
Fog enveloped the Kennedy Space Center at the time of launch on Tuesday morning, but the Falcon Heavy quickly climbed above the clouds as its three boosters and 27 Merlin engines powering the rocket to space.
Two-and-a-half minutes into the flight, the two side boosters separated from the core booster.
About 90 seconds later, the stream showed stage separation high above Earth.
As planned, the two side boosters returned to Earth and landed upright around eight minutes after departing the launch site.
With the Falcon Heavy mission now out of the way, SpaceX engineers will be turning their attention to the maiden launch of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket, which includes the Super Heavy booster.
When it gets airborne, the Super Heavy will become the most powerful rocket to have ever flown in terms of thrust, which will reach 17 million pounds at launch — more than three times that of the Falcon Heavy.
The Super Heavy could take its first test flight later this month or some time in December.
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