One year laterin the deep room, one second thundered to life and raced into space on Thursday night. A spectacular show as the triple-barreled launcher brought an advanced communications satellite into orbit for Saudi Arabia-based consortium Arabsat.
While the implementation of the Arabsat 6A communications station was the primary goal of the 34-minute mission, the SpaceX engineers also spectacularly achieved a secondary target by successfully restoring the three Falcon 9 core stages of the rocket for rehabilitation and reuse.
Two of the boosters made side-by-side landings at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, delighting tourists and residents with double-sounding as the rockets completed seemingly synchronized landings at just a few hundred yards. The central core phase flew to a pinpoint landing on an offshore drone ship.
The Arabsat 6A satellite, built by Lockheed Martin for the Arabsat consortium, was released from the second leg of the Falcon 9 about 34 minutes after take-off. Placed in an initial elliptical orbit, the on-board engines are used to place the ship in a circular orbit 22,300 miles above the equator, where satellites spin in unison with the Earth, ideal for communication stations.
If all goes well, SpaceX engineers will overhaul the two side amplifiers, add a new core core phase, and prepare another Falcon Heavy for takeoff in June or July to bring more than a dozen Air Force satellites into orbit.
To runThe mission on Thursday started at 18:35. EDT, when the 27 Merlin engines of the rocket, nine per core booster, were fired with a burst of fire and steaming clouds of steam and brought to life. After a lightning-fast computer check, the 229 meter high rocket was released to begin its ascent into space.
The Falcon Heavy – the world's most powerful operational rocket – achieved a thrust of more than five million pounds and sped up quickly as it shot off east on a long jet of burning exhaust and showed a dramatic show as she stepped out of the cabin's dense lower atmosphere , It was the first flight of a Falcon Heavy that used three improved, more powerful "Block 5" core stages.
The Falcon Heavy's two outboards were launched from the central core phase two and a half minutes after the blastoff. The two boosters, which operated independently, each launched three engines to reverse the course, sank back into the lower atmosphere, and carried out flawless, side-by-side rocket attacks at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station some eight minutes into the launch.
The central core stage ignited a minute longer than the two outboards, before shutting off and turning the climb to the only engine to propel the upper stage of the rocket. The core stage then flew to a precision landing on the offshore coastal "Of course I still love you" station, which was stationed several hundred miles east of Cape Canaveral.
On its first flight in February 2018, the rocket carried a dummy payload, awith a space-oriented Mannequin "Starman", which is strapped in the driver's seat. The two side amplifiers used for this launch were successfully salvaged, but the core phase crashed while trying to reach the drone ship.
But the successful landings side by side and the live video, the Starman and the sporty sports car showed against the blue-and-white background of planet earth, aroused the nation's attention and worldwide attention.
For the second flight of Heavys it was strictly business. The rocket was purchased by Arabsat in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) to launch the Consortium's newest satellite, a 14,252 pound relay station built by Lockheed Martin, which provides television, radio, mobile and broadband services in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
"This new satellite will strengthen our existing fleet, which provides millions of people with mobile and fixed line communications services throughout the region," said Khalid Balkheyour, CEO of Arabsat, in a press release. "We look forward to completing and bringing this state-of-the-art new satellite to market to offer our customers even more Internet, television and radio services."
Unlike previous designs, the satellite has thin, flexible solar arrays instead of the rigid panels used in other spacecraft. The new multi-mission arrays are 30 percent lighter than traditional panels, but can generate up to 50 percent more power or 20 kilowatts for Arabsat 6A.
With the Falcon Heavy's heavy load, the satellite was put into a first orbit with a peak (apogee) of nearly 56,000 miles and a low point (perigee) of just 124 miles. On-board thrusters circulate the orbit at the desired altitude of 22,300 miles. Starting with such high apogee requires less propellant to reach operating altitude, resulting in longer orbit life.