The launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the first functional use of the Falcon Heavy, which took the Saudi Arabsat-6A communications satellite into orbit a year after carrying one of Elon Musk's Tesla roadsters along for an attention-getting test launch. Known as a supersynchronous (perhaps ultrasynchronous?) transfer orbit, the extremely high apogee - nearly three times higher than the nominal circular orbit Arabsat 6A is destined for - will help the satellite reach that orbit far sooner than it otherwise would.
Roughly three minutes after clearing the launch pad, Falcon Heavy's two side boosters separated from the core rocket for a synchronised landing at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just like it did for the rocket's debut a year ago. The core booster landed two minutes later on an ocean platform hundreds of miles offshore. It was the first time the company had landed all three boosters for Falcon Heavy. The boosters can then be refurbished and used again, which SpaceX says drastically reduces the cost of spaceflight.
Introducing a new ultra-powerful rocket has allowed SpaceX to compete directly with arch rival United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, for lucrative government contracts that require heavy-lift launch vehicles. It will be just the second time a Falcon Heavy soars.
Falcon Heavy's debut flight a year ago attracted massive attention, in part because CEO Elon Musk made a decision to launch his own luxury Tesla Roadster as the test payload. The red Roadster - with a mannequin at the wheel - remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars.
SpaceX plans to refly the Falcon Heavy side boosters from the Arabsat-6A mission on its next Falcon Heavy mission, the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program-2 rideshare mission. All three of the rocket's boosters safely landed on Earth; the side boosters for this launch hadn't previously been used.
Until SpaceX came along, boosters were discarded in the ocean after satellite launches. It will include coverage of the landing attempts and satellite deploy.
The satellite is created to provide television, internet, telephone, and secure communications to customers in the Middle East. The company selected Falcon Heavy in September for a mission anticipated in late 2017 or 2018.