It was a historic night for SpaceX with the completion of the Arabsat-6A mission. Elon Musk’s aerospace company flawlessly launched Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket, while also successfully recovering all three of its first-stage boosters. This was the first commercial mission for Falcon Heavy, and sent a communications satellite for Saudi Arabian cellular carrier Arabsat into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter for a victory lap to celebrate his company’s milestone, a proof of concept for the incredibly powerful, but also incredibly economic rocket he first outlined to the public in 2011.
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“The Falcons have landed,” he said as the two side boosters simultaneously touched back down at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The highlight? Falcon Heavy’s third center core seamlessly touched down on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship, situated 500 nautical miles off the Florida coast in the Atlantic ocean.
Other SpaceX employees celebrated the monumental achievement moments after it went down. SpaceX engineer Lauren Lyons tweeted two back-to-back tweets of the three cores once they were firmly planted on solid ground. But even amongst the excitement over the extraordinary engineering feat, she reminded her followers that the mission wasn’t over yet.
“We’re not done yet! Primary mission is to deliver Arabsat to orbit,” she tweeted. “So while we may cheer, we all know the most important part still lies ahead.”
Lars Blackmore, SpaceX’s principal rocket landing engineer — and likely the SpaceX employee that was the most stressed during the booster recovery portion of the mission — rang in the accomplishment by simply tweeting the song “The Magic Number” by De La Soul (in case you were wondering what the magic number in the song is, it’s three. Very clever.)
Aside from SpaceX employees, aerospace fans across Twitter tweeted in reaction to the awe-inspiring mission. Science educator and media personality Bill Nye posted an image of himself viewing the launch from his phone 23 seconds after Falcon Heavy had taken to the skies, with the caption, “Woohoo SpaceX. Go go go! Spectacular!”
Space photographer John Kraus was also on hand, and tweeted a series of jaw-dropping images of the launch moments after the boosters landed. They included the take off sequence and the side-booster reentries.
This was Falcon Heavy’s second visit to space, but it was its first time taking off with its “Block 5” upgrade. This new iteration offers a maximum thrust of 2,550 tons, or 5.1 million pounds. That’s roughly 10 percent more thrust than it created during its February 2018 test flight, which Musk said only created 4.7 million pounds of thrust at the time.
Falcon Heavy has successfully proven it is ready to continue launching high priority payloads in the future, which should entice other customers in the near future. Would-be space entrepreneurs have found their workhorse.