SpaceX just aced a critical Air Force test of its Falcon Heavy rocket


On Tuesday afternoon—a little more than 12 hours after the launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida—the US Air Force’s Space & Missile Systems Center declared that all had gone well with the complicated mission. “All satellites are on orbit and have made contact,” the Air Force unit tweeted.

SpaceX had a lot on its plate with Tuesday morning’s launch, which occurred at 2:30am ET (06:30 UTC). Once again, the company recovered the two side-mounted Falcon 9 first stage boosters at a landing site along the Florida coast. But for the second time out of three Falcon Heavy launches, SpaceX was unable to land the center core on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. This is perhaps understandable because, due to mission requirements, the center core used in Tuesday’s launch had to shed more energy than any previous launch—its attending drone ship was positioned more than 1,200km away from the launch site.

More favorably for SpaceX, the company succeeded in catching one half of a payload fairing for the first time. SpaceX did so with its rebranded Ms. Tree ship, which sports a large catcher’s mitt-like netting. “Ms. Tree caught the Falcon fairing!!” company founder Elon Musk shared on Twitter. For a few years, the company has been experimenting with various approaches to capturing the payload fairing halves, which split apart after a rocket reaches orbit to allow the payload access to space.

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