Russia Developing Launch Vehicles Similar to Falcon Heavy - Deputy PM

Enlarge Image Falcon Heavy's center core landed on the SpaceX droneship.                  Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser  CNET

Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched its massive Falcon Heavy rocket Thursday for Saudi Arabia's Arabsat, the rocket's first mission for a paying customer.

After a day's delay due to strong winds at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Falcon Heavy lifted off at 6:35 p.m. EDT under clear skies and tolerable winds.

The Falcon Heavy's liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center created a spectacle, just as it did during the maiden launch.

Eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX landed two of the first-stage boosters back at Cape Canaveral, side by side, just like it did for the rocket's debut a year ago. A third booster landed on a barge in the ocean, something SpaceX hadn't accomplished with the previous Falcon Heavy launch.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy proved its merit on Thursday night (April 11, ) when it took off into space on its first-ever commercial launch.

The rocket carried a Saudi Arabian satellite operated by Arabsat, a year after sending SpaceX founder Elon Musk's slick red Tesla roadster into orbit as a test. This is the first commercial launch of the "Heavy" which is boosting the Arabsat 6 Satellite.

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The satellite SpaceX will launch on Wednesday will update satellite coverage for Arabsat, which is based in Riyadh and delivers hundreds of television channels and radio stations to homes across the Middle East and North Africa.

However, with Musk's company intent on driving down launch costs by recycling rocket parts, the boosters for this flight may be re-used for future missions.

The successful launch and landing were cheered on by United States space agency NASA, which congratulated the California-based rocket manufacturer. SpaceX already has another Falcon Heavy launch planned for June, a US Air Force mission called STP-2 that consists of dozens of small satellites.

The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today, with 27 engines firing at lift-off.

The US Air Force tapped SpaceX in 2018 to launch for $130 million a classified military satellite, and in February added three more missions in a $297 million contract. The vehicle, 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. The first retrieval didn't go so well for the poor old core booster, which missed the landing and plunged into the ocean after delivering the Roadster to orbit in February a year ago.

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