Adding another feather to its cap, SpaceX, the American aerospace company, has successfully carried out its much-anticipated Falcon Heavy launch, carrying 24 research satellites, a deep space atomic clock, solar sail, a clean and green rocket fuel testbed and 152 dead people's remains in the wee hours of Tuesday. It was the third-ever and first night launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket- the most powerful operational launch system in the world.
The "most difficult launch ever", as SpaceX founder Elon Musk described the misson, was scheudled to take place on 24 June 11.35 pm EDT (25 June 9.00 am IST) but was delayed due to 'additional system checkouts'. The rocket was taken to the sky from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"Targeting T-0 of 2:30 a.m. EDT for Falcon Heavy launch of STP-2; team completed additional ground system checkouts. Vehicle and payload continue to look good," SpaceX wrote on Twitter.
Targeting T-0 of 2:30 a.m. EDT for Falcon Heavy launch of STP-2; team completed additional ground system checkouts. Vehicle and payload continue to look good— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 25, 2019
The entire proceeding has been live streamed on NASA TV and SpaceX's own YouTube channel with coverage beginning on the latter around 15 minutes before the targeted lift-off time. Additionally, SpaceX's also made it available on its webcast page for the enthusiast.
The Defense Department mission, dubbed STP-2 for Space Test Program, is expected to provide data to certify the Falcon Heavy and reused boosters for future national security launches. It marked the military's first ride on a recycled rocket. Both side boosters landed back at Cape Canaveral several minutes after liftoff, just as they did after launching in April. But the new core booster missed an ocean platform, not unexpected for this especially difficult mission, SpaceX noted.
NASA signed up for a spot on the rocket, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Planetary Society and Celestis Inc., which offers memorial flights into space. An astronaut who flew on NASA's first space station back in the 1970s, Skylab's Bill Pogue, had a bit of his ashes on board, along with more than 150 other deceased people. Pogue died in 2014.
SpaceX said the satellites needed to be placed in three different orbits, requiring multiple upper-stage engine firings. It was going to take several hours to release them all. The Deep Space Atomic Clock by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a technology demo aimed at self-flying spacecraft. Barely the size of a toaster oven, the clock is meant to help spacecraft navigate by themselves when far from Earth. NASA also was testing a clean and green alternative to toxic rocket and satellite fuel.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/EZIbdSY5r2— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 25, 2019
The Planetary Society's LightSail crowd-funded spacecraft will attempt to become the first orbiting spacecraft to be propelled solely by sunlight. It's the society's third crack at solar sailing: The first was lost in a Russian rocket failure in 2005, while the second had a successful test flight in 2015. "Hey @elonmusk et al, thanks for the ride!," tweeted Bill Nye, the society's chief executive officer.
The Air Force Research Laboratory had space weather experiments aboard, while NOAA had six small atmospheric experimental satellites for weather forecasting. Each first-stage booster of the Falcon Heavy has nine engines, for a total of 27 firing simultaneously at liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
The first Falcon Heavy launch was in February 2018. That test flight put SpaceX founder Musk's red Tesla convertible into an orbit stretching past Mars.
(With inputs from agencies)