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SpaceX shares surreal footage of Falcon Heavy fairing reentry

SpaceX has been releasing more information and footage from its recent Falcon Heavy mission.

Sunday evening’s flight launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and deployed three payloads that included the ViaSat 3 Americas broadband communications satellite — the first of at least three new-generation Boeing-built geostationary satellites for California-based ViaSat.

On Tuesday, SpaceX shared some wonderfully surreal video (below) showing the reusable rocket fairing reentering Earth’s atmosphere at high speed.

“Fairing reentry on the ViaSat-3 mission was the hottest and fastest we’ve ever attempted,” SpaceX said in a tweet. “The fairings reentered the atmosphere greater than 15x the speed of sound, creating a large trail of plasma in its wake.”

Fairing reentry on the ViaSat-3 mission was the hottest and fastest we've ever attempted. The fairings re-entered the atmosphere greater than 15x the speed of sound, creating a large trail of plasma in its wake pic.twitter.com/VgdlH6r3yR

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 2, 2023

It added that the mission involved the farthest downrange landing and recovery of fairings so far, at more than 1200 miles, or as SpaceX put it, “nearly a third of the way to Africa!”

For occasions when it opts not to pluck the two fairing pieces from the ocean, SpaceX attempts to catch them in giant nets on ships waiting in the ocean. The fairing can then be refurbished and used again in future rocket flights.

The Falcon Heavy comprises three first-stage Falcon 9 boosters that are capable of landing back on Earth so that they, too, can be used again. But Sunday’s mission involved a more distant orbit than usual and so the boosters didn’t have enough fuel to manage the return flight and landing, causing them to crash into the ocean instead.

Two of the Falcon 9 boosters had already completed multiple flights. One of them previously supported the Arabsat-6A, STP-2, COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation FM2, and KPLO missions, as well as three Starlink missions, and another supported the Arabsat-6A and STP-2 missions.

With its 27 Merlin engines, the Falcon Heavy rocket packs around 5 million pounds of thrust at launch. That’s way more than SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket at 1.7 million pounds, but significantly less than the recently tested Super Heavy rocket, whose 33 Raptor engines create around 17 million pounds of thrust at launch.

Sunday’s Falcon Heavy mission was its second flight this year and the sixth overall following its maiden flight in 2018. Its next one is currently scheduled for June 23.

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