SpaceX is intent on revolutionising the space race to speed-up the exploration of the solar system. To realise this ambition, the Elon Musk-owned company is testing a reusable heavy-lift launch rocket dubbed the Falcon Heavy. And last week’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch — only its second ever trip to space — has been immortalised with a series of snaps underlying the spacecraft’s formidable power.
Remote cameras placed on launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre show SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket blasting into the sky on Thursday evening.
The Falcon Heavy was powered into the heavens with more than 5 million pounds of thrust.
The triple-core rocket, powered by 27 Merlin main engines, was sent hurtling over the Atlantic Ocean with the Arabsat 6A communications satellite on board.
Last week’s launch was only the second for the Falcon Heavy, and the SpaceX launcher’s first flight for a paying customer.
Two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters detached and returned to Florida’s Cape Canaveral for simultaneous successful landings at SpaceX’x landing zones approximately 9 miles (15 km) south of the launch site.
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The core stage later landed on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean more than 600 miles (approximately 1,000 km) away, while the second stage continued into orbit with Arabsat 6A.
Photos released by SpaceX show the fiery inferno released by the Falcon Heavy’s launch, and the landings by the rocket’s two side boosters a few minutes later.
Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator, said: ”We are pleased with the success of yesterday’s Falcon Heavy launch and first-stage landings.
“We have important technologies that are ready to fly, and this success helps put us on that path.”
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US space agency NASA plan to launch several experiments into space simultaneously, with the aim to upgrade the design and performance of future rockets.
The missions will also launch from the Kennedy Space Centre as part of the US Air Force’s Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission.
NASA has already confirmed the US Air Force and SpaceX will prepare for the launch in the coming months.
The Falcon Heavy will soon blast NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission into orbit, to test an alternative to the traditional chemical propulsion used in rockets.
The mission will test a new fuel/oxidiser blend called hydroxyl ammonium nitrate, which is considered safer to use and kinder to the environment than hydrazine, a popular but toxic rocket engine fuel.
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Another NASA experiment involves two small and relatively cheap cube-sats.
These robots will comprise the Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment (E-TBEx) and will measure how disturbances in Earth’s atmosphere interfere with radio signals and GPS.
NASA hopes the study will improve forecasting such distortions to secure communications technology in the future.
NASA’s third scheduled mission involves the Deep Space Atomic Clock – a highly accurate timepiece that is set to improve navigation, and the Space Environment Testbeds device, examining how solar radiation near the Earth affects hardware on the spacecraft.
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