SpaceX successfully recovered Falcon Heavy’s nosecone, and it’s going to space again

Rodiano Bonacci
Aprile 13, 2019

Amid the fanfare of the Falcon Heavy successfully embarking on its second-ever trip to space, Elon Musk announced that his company was able to recover both fairing halves of the megarocket for the first time.

The middle booster, after pushing the payload into space, returned almost 10 minutes later for a successful landing on SpaceX's seafaring drone ship 400 miles (645 km) off the Florida coast.

Falcon Heavy lifted off yesterday from Cape Canaveral in Florida and successfully delivered its cargo into orbit.

For its first commercial mission, the payload was a communications satellite built by Riyadh-based telecom Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat). The liftoff was smooth, with the communications satellite deploying into its planned geosyncronous transfer orbit 34 minutes after launch.

After some minor delays, the mission blasted off at 03:35 p.m. PDT (06:35 p.m. EDT) from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida - the same site where the Apollo missions all took off from.

In the 2018 test mission, Heavy's core booster missed the vessel and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

The launch was also significant in that it was the first time that SpaceX has managed to bring back all of three of the rocket's first stages.

In an incredible accomplishment, the Falcon Heavy's reused side boosters landed smoothly back down to Earth on two separate launchpads about 8 minutes in. But this time the main core touched down safely on the droneship "Of Course I Still Love You". Two Starlink test satellites were launched past year and the company hopes to launch the next set in the coming months using a Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX is now testing a system to recover the fairings of its Falcon 9 rockets. Seawater isn't the best for rocket components, but the company is confident it can refurbish the fairings after they've been dunked in the ocean.

SpaceX's payload fairing retrieval boat, dubbed Mr. Steven. SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker said during a livestream: "T plus 33 seconds into flight, under the power of 5.1 million pounds of thrust, Falcon Heavy is headed to space". This same principle has informed the mission architecture behind the BFR system, which consists of the reusable Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy launch vehicle.

The latest launch marked the first time Falcon Heavy flies using the new Block 5 hardware, which is created to last longer than previous versions without the need for refurbishment. These boosters have been part of the Falcon 9 rocket for nearly a year and offer better thrust, improved landing legs and other features that make retrieval easier.

SpaceX and Boeing Co are also vying to send humans to space from US soil for the first time in almost a decade under NASA's Commercial Crew Program. While the Falcon Heavy is no substitute for the SLS, this tight deadline could force some tough choices. This is in response to VP Mike Pence's call for NASA to land astronauts on the surface of the Moon by 2024, "by any means necessary".

Regardless, this latest success of the Falcon Heavy is another step along the road to a new age of space exploration, one that is characterized by flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

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