Launching from the Kennedy Space Center, Falcon Heavy, the world’s largest and most powerful space launch system in use today, lifted off at approximately 9:41 a.m. carrying an undisclosed cargo on a classified Space Force mission designated USSF-44.
Falcon Heavy, a modified set of three Falcon 9 rockets, launched to a geosynchronous Earth orbit for the first time in over three years. “This was the first launch and landing of these Falcon Heavy side boosters,” a brief statement from SpaceX said following the successful return of the two flanking rockets that safely touched down on their respective platforms shortly after the launch. According to SpaceX, these boosters will be reused for a future mission planned by the Department of Defense.
“Please be advised, tomorrow morning’s launch will be followed by a double sonic boom. This will occur shortly after launch, as the boosters land on landing zone 1 and landing zone 2 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station,” a statement from the Space Force’s official Twitter launch account cautioned, and shortly after the dual booster system began its reentry, spectators were treated to a series of two loud snaps as the reusable rocket boosters broke the sound barrier upon reentry.
The news of today’s launch marks Falcon Heavy’s first sortie since 2019 and only its fourth mission since its development. CNN, during their broadcast of the event, overlayed a chyron indicating that the mission was on behalf of NASA.
But, owing to the size of the payload and the cost of lifting such heavy cargo into orbit, neither NASA nor the Department of Defense had prepared a cargo until now.
— Not a Sonic Boom (@NotaSonicBoom) November 1, 2022
— Greg Diesel Walck (@GregDieselPhoto) November 1, 2022
SpaceX has been tapped by NASA to play a pivotal role in the return of mankind to the moon in the space agency’s planned Artemis missions that intend to put the first woman and first person of color on the moon by 2025. For that mission series, SpaceX will deploy its Starship vehicle and Super Heavy boosters, not the Falcon Heavy system that was launched today. An earlier test of the launch system’s Raptor engines in July returned botched results when it was discovered that fuel propellants ignited under the booster.
Assuming that SpaceX can successfully test-fire all 33 Raptor engines that make up the Super Heavy booster, NASA hopes to test the system once more in December of this year with a brief orbital flight mission that will have the Starship vehicle splash down off the coast of Hawaii without completing a full orbit.