Elon Musk's SpaceX sends world's most powerful rocket on first commercial flight

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Elon Musk's SpaceX sends world's most powerful rocket on first commercial flight

SpaceX's most powerful rocket - the Falcon Heavy - was primed to send Saudi Arabia's Arabsat-6A telecommunications satellite into orbit Wednesday, but high atmospheric winds forced SpaceXto postpone the launch by 24 hours.

Two of the three cores of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy rocket return to Landing Zones 1 and 2 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. on Thursday. The auto, which was carrying a space-suited mannequin nicknamed Starman, was vaulted into outer space and is expected to orbit the sun for the foreseeable future.

Enlarge / The Falcon Heavy fires its 27 engines on the way to space. The satellite is the largest commercial one Lockheed martin has ever produced. Pad 39A is the launch pad that played host to the historic Apollo missions as well as NASA's Space Shuttle program.

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

During the heavy-lift rocket's debut launch a year ago, the first attempt to recover the center core failed.

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.

SpaceX tweeted Thursday "all weather and systems are now go", so provided the pesky Floridian weather stays that way, it should be full steam ahead.

The short-notice solicitation, posted on February 13, "provides flexibility and back-up capability" as the companies build their rocket-and-capsule launch systems. Thursday's launch marks the first time a Block 5 booster was used for the big rocket.

The launch systems are aimed at ending United States reliance on Russian Soyuz rockets for $80 million-per-seat rides to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles above the earth.

The rocket will be able to lift 64 tons into orbit, doubling the lift capacity of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost, the company said. Falcon Heavy is taller than the shuttle launch rocket was, but carries a little less thrust or power.

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