For the first time, SpaceX launched a communications satellite on its Falcon Heavy rocket Thursday, opening the door for future commercial and military payloads.
The launch of the Arabsat-6A satellite occurred at 6:35 p.m. Eastern time from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About eight minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s two side boosters came back to nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for simultaneous side-by-side landings.
The center core booster landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean about two minutes after that. It was the first time the company had landed all three boosters for Falcon Heavy.
The Arabsat-6A satellite deployed from the rocket’s second-stage about 34 minutes after liftoff.
The launch was originally set for Wednesday but was postponed due to high upper-level winds.
This was the first launch of SpaceX’s three-booster rocket since its initial test flight last year, when a Falcon Heavy launched toward Mars a red Tesla Roadster car belonging to company Chief Executive Elon Musk.
During that launch, the rocket’s two side boosters returned to land, but its center core missed a floating sea platform and hit the water at a speed of about 300 mph.
Falcon Heavy is designed to carry much heavier satellites and payloads than can be hoisted by SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon Heavy can lift a little less than 141,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit, compared to the single-stick Falcon 9’s ability to carry up to 50,000 pounds.
The rocket was initially seen as a way for SpaceX to compete for more national security launch contracts and heavier commercial satellite launches. The commercial satellite market has since tilted largely in favor of smaller satellites that require less of a boost to space, but analysts said the Falcon Heavy could also benefit from the Trump administration’s call to return to the moon by 2024.