SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters

SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a communication satellite lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

SpaceX launched its second supersized rocket and for the first time landed all three boosters Thursday, a year after sending up a sports car on the initial test flight.

The new and improved Falcon Heavy thundered into the early evening sky with a communication satellite called Arabsat, the rocket's first paying customer. The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today, with 27 engines firing at liftoff—nine per .

Eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX landed two of the first-stage boosters back at Cape Canaveral, side by side, just like it did for the rocket's debut last year. The core booster landed two minutes later on an ocean platform hundreds of miles offshore. That's the only part of the first mission that missed.

"What an amazing day," a SpaceX flight commentator exclaimed. "Three for three boosters today on Falcon Heavy, what an amazing accomplishment."

The Falcon Heavy soared from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, using the same pad that shot Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago and later space shuttle crews.

Nearby beaches and other prime viewing spots were packed with tourists and locals eager to catch not just the launch but the rare and dramatic return of twin boosters, accompanied by sonic booms. The roads were also jammed for Wednesday night's , which was scuttled by high wind.

SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a communication satellite lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Because this was an upgraded version of the rocket with unproven changes, SpaceX chief Elon Musk cautioned in advance things might go wrong. But everything went exceedingly well and the satellite ended up in the proper orbit. SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Southern California cheered every launch milestone and especially the three touchdowns.

"The Falcons have landed," Musk said in a tweet that included pictures of all three boosters.

NASA offered swift congratulations. "From our iconic launch pads at @NASAKennedy, we will continue to support the growing commercial space economy," NASA tweeted. Musk replied with three red hearts.

Musk put his own Tesla convertible on last year's demo. The red Roadster—with a mannequin, dubbed Starman, likely still at the wheel—remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars.

SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a communication satellite lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The Roadster is thought to be on the other side of the sun from us right now, about three-quarters of the way around its first solar orbit, said Jon Giorgini, a senior analyst at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

A couple dozen ground telescopes kept tabs on the car during its first several days in space, but it gradually faded from view as it headed out toward the orbit of Mars, Giorgini noted.

The Roadster could still look much the same as it did for the Feb. 6, 2018, launch, just not as shiny with perhaps some chips and flakes from the extreme temperature swings, according to Giorgini. It will take decades if not centuries for solar radiation to cause it to decompose, he said.

SpaceX plans to launch its next Falcon Heavy later this year on a mission for the U.S. Air Force. The boosters for that flight may be recycled from this one.

  • SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters
    A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a communication satellite lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
  • SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters
    A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a communication satellite lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
  • SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters
    Eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX lands two of the first-stage boosters side by side at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
  • SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters
    Eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX lands two of the first-stage boosters side by side at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine last month suggested possibly using a Falcon Heavy—and another company's big rocket—to get the space agency's Orion capsule around the moon, minus a crew, in 2020. But the preferred method remains NASA's own Space Launch System mega rocket—if it can be ready by then.

Bridenstine said everything is on the space table as NASA strives to meet the White House's goal of landing astronauts back on the moon by 2024.

NASA's Saturn V rockets, used for the Apollo moon shots, are the all-time launch leaders so far in size and might.

SpaceX typically launches Falcon 9 rockets. The Falcon Heavy is essentially three of those single rockets strapped together.

Until SpaceX came along, boosters were discarded in the ocean after satellite launches. The company is intent on driving down launch costs by recycling parts.


Explore further

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket poised for first commercial launch

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all three boosters (2019, April 12) retrieved 24 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-spacex-mega-rocket-boosters.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
195 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Apr 12, 2019
It is great for the US to begin the reliance on SpaceX for LEO and wean itself away from dependence on Balkonur.

Apr 12, 2019
Landing all three boosters is a neat trick. Given how hard that seems to do they are doing a remarkable job at turning something that seemed almost impossible a few years ago into "business as usual"

Apr 12, 2019
i can't tell the articles from the adverts now, maybe it's inevitable.

Apr 12, 2019
congrats!!

Apr 12, 2019
Landing all three boosters is a neat trick. Given how hard that seems to do they are doing a remarkable job at turning something that seemed almost impossible a few years ago into "business as usual"
Yes, and as I recall a few years ago you offered the opinion that there was no way this could be cost effective.

Apr 12, 2019
"Landing all three boosters is a neat trick" What hubris.

Apr 12, 2019
"Landing all three boosters is a neat trick" What hubris.


It is still a trick. They're actually re-using only the engines. The rest of the booster is still scrap, because the very high vibration loads cause fatigue cracking in the aluminum alloys and there isn't enough safety margins (for weight reasons) to launch the same whole booster again. It's like taking the engine out of a top-fuel dragster and rebuilding the rest of the frame after each race.

Secondly, SpaceX has a success rate of 97.1% for the Falcon 9 family - not different from the rest of the launch industry - and each booster needs to be re-used more than 12 times for the system to save any money. You can do the math: the probability of surviving the 13th launch is 68% and at 24 launches its 49%. So far they've not flown any individual booster more than three times to my knowledge.

Put simply, they haven't actually demonstrated any results. Not enough launches, not enough re-used boosters yet.

Apr 12, 2019
Of course Elon Musk claims that the latest Block 5 boosters only need an inspection for the first 10 flights, but that's just boasting as typical. That's just their design goal, like the Model S was supposed to drive for 300 miles and cost $50,000 when it was announced...

Apr 12, 2019
The fatigue problem is also one reason why SpaceX is designing the Starship rocket out of steel.

Steel has a so-called fatigue limit. It means you can engineer steel for "unlimited" stress cycles as long as you add enough material to keep the vibration-induced stress below a certain threshold amplitude, whereas with aluminum, magnesium, etc. light alloys or carbon fiber composites there is no such limit, and you always get microscopic cracks that grow with each vibration until the structure fails catastrophically.

Steel can be over-engineered to hold on forever, as long as it doesn't rust. The lighter alloys have to be replaced after so many hours under cycling loads or vibration, or in the case of rockets, after so many minutes of operation. The additional difficulty for designing with the lighter alloys is that the mathematical models for predicting fatigue life for the parts are all empirical - they're not entirely reliable and applicable to all situations.

Apr 12, 2019
Continuous launch to booster landing video taken with decent tracking equipment. Notice how, moments after launch, the center booster throttles back, resulting in a forked flame.
https://youtu.be/cEZZkEXAD6Q

The momentary water pressure drop we experienced last evening was all the other rocket companies taking a collective dump.

Apr 12, 2019
Eikka:
It is still a trick. They're actually re-using only the engines.
So you are saying that Space X purposely smudges up the sides of new boosters to make them look like they are recycled???

Apr 13, 2019
It is still a trick. They're actually re-using only the engines. The rest of the booster is still scrap, because the very high vibration loads cause fatigue cracking in the aluminum alloys and there isn't enough safety margins (for weight reasons) to launch the same whole booster again
Dude, your thought processes are deteriorating fast. Do some RESEARCH before posting GARBAGE. Spacex relaunches entire boosters.

"The Falcon 9 Block 5 is optimized for rapid reusability, according to the company. It boasts a number of improvements that make the vehicle easier to land after launch, as well as upgrades that minimize the amount of refurbishment the rocket needs between flights. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk claims that the Block 5s won't need any major refurbishment for the first 10 flights or so, and could potentially fly up to 100 times before being retired."

-Unbelievable.

Apr 13, 2019
Steel can be over-engineered to hold on forever, as long as it doesn't rust. The lighter alloys have to be replaced after so many hours under cycling loads or vibration, or in the case of rockets, after so many minutes of operation
-Its like you're saying that 747s can only be flown 10 times before the engines are pulled and the rest of the plane replaced.

You're just making stuff up and its embarrassing. What makes you think you have any idea you know what you are talking about?

Apr 13, 2019
Watching 2 boosters land simultaneously has got to be one of the great videos ever!

Apr 13, 2019
WG posts always lack snark. Why is that? Be nasty once in awhile.

Re eikka 'comments', consider the shuttle design which was built to tolerate far more complex eccentric loads over many more launches and landings. Also consider naval fighter jets on 100s of carrier landings and catapult takeoffs.

Engrs know what theyre doing.

Apr 13, 2019
I am not a big Musk fan but I will admit that SpaceX is a fantastic achievement. He did put together a great team there.

Apr 13, 2019
I'm impressed as well. That team is definitely staying busy. I was reading somewhere that sometime eventually the entire falcon 9 booster will be replaced with the 1st stage of the starship hopper (BFR), and that what we're seeing right now is just a test bed for that future vehicle.

Apr 13, 2019
And yeah, Musk may not be the most charismatic speaker, but I don't think he's the type of person living his life to be that perfect role model type that everyone looks up to. He's seems to be more grounded in completing feats of engineering which involve logical steps of improving old and costly design models such as throwaway spacecraft. Sooner or later somebody needed to do it.

Apr 14, 2019
WG posts always lack snark. Why is that? Be nasty once in awhile.

Re eikka 'comments', consider the shuttle design which was built to tolerate far more complex eccentric loads over many more launches and landings. Also consider naval fighter jets on 100s of carrier landings and catapult takeoffs.

Engrs know what theyre doing.

Very ignorant comparisons, since none of those are subjected to the extreme temperatures those boosters must endure.

Apr 14, 2019
Very ignorant comparisons, since none of those are subjected to the extreme temperatures those boosters must endure
...from the king of ignorance as I understand it? You dont think the space shuttle endured even more severe stress on trips to and from the ISS? Spending weeks in space, in and out of the sun, main engines using the same fuel on the same trajectories, having to endure reentry temps from orbit that those boosters will never see?

"The Falcon 9 heavy rocket has a thrust of about 5,340,000 pounds (23700 kN) with a LEO payload of 140,660 pounds (65.7 t). The Space Shuttle, on the other hand, had a thrust of 6,780,000 pounds"

-read a book troll

Apr 14, 2019
Did the shuttle itself hold tons of propellant at extremely cold temperatures?
The shuttle was engineered for those temperatures, and after every launch, its tiles had to be examined and damaged ones replaced. In fact the shuttle accidents were directly related to freezing temperatures.

-- use a brain, idiot.

Apr 14, 2019
The Falcon boosters are also moving at less than full orbital, with the paired boosters being able to slow enough and return to the essential take off point, the center booster, having taken on that much more speed, had to land further downrange with a longer glidepath. The most the boosters go through is hypersonic and they are rocket controlled, so able to keep their speed under the burnup levels.

Now, the second stage is, so far, beyond recovery due to the very much faster speed put on it, THAT would require a full heatshield system like Apollo, Soyuz or Shuttle, or the newer man-rated capsules. But coming in on a powered landing like that means you do Not have to go through the unbearable plasma forming highspeed return.

One gently powers oneself out of orbit, that is what their decel burns and the timed burns before their final landing burn.

Gorgeous to watch, after seeing Saturn V after Saturn V land in the water as disposable.

These boosters are treated like egg crates.

Apr 14, 2019
WG posts always lack snark. Why is that? Be nasty once in awhile.

Re eikka 'comments', consider the shuttle design which was built to tolerate far more complex eccentric loads over many more launches and landings. Also consider naval fighter jets on 100s of carrier landings and catapult takeoffs.

Engrs know what theyre doing.

Don't forget the construction people who put together what the engineers design...

Apr 15, 2019
Did the shuttle itself hold tons of propellant at extremely cold temperatures?
The shuttle was engineered for those temperatures, and after every launch, its tiles had to be examined and damaged ones replaced. In fact the shuttle accidents were directly related to freezing temperatures.

-- use a brain, idiot.
Sorry troll, I dont bite on trollbait. In fact, *blink*
https://youtu.be/2BVbyCZXc5s

Apr 17, 2019
And we learn that the center booster was destroyed when heavy seas toppled it. (The octagrabber robot that was supposed to grab a booster and secure it has not yet been adapted to FH core boosters.) The engines may be salvageable.

"You're gonna need a bigger boat" - Roy Scheider in Jaws

Octagrabber aside, I wonder if something larger than a converted barge for a recovery craft would be worth it. It might offer more stability and maybe be more robust in face of bad weather, reducing the threat of postponed launches. Perhaps it could have a strongback-like device which could actually get the booster horizontal, better secured and covered. It might be faster than the barge too, saving time and reducing the weather vulnerability window. Maybe they could even start to do some refurb operations on it.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more