Sometimes, you’ve just got to pause for a moment to appreciate great feats of engineering.
On Thursday, before it took off, the Falcon Heavy rocket stood on a Florida launch pad and packed the energy equivalent of a tactical nuclear weapon. Then, as it launched, all of this energy poured forth from 27 engines in a meticulously controlled explosion for the purpose of sending a 6-ton satellite into geostationary orbit.
The single image below, of those 27 engines burning against the sunset backdrop along the Florida coast, may in some small measure put that achievement into perspective.
What is all the more amazing about this engineering effort, however, is that the world’s largest rocket does not just launch into space. Each of the three boosters, on Thursday, made a safe return to Earth. As with the first Falcon Heavy mission in February 2018, the two side cores made a side-by-side landing along the Florida coast. However, this time, the center core also landed on a drone ship at sea, meaning that SpaceX recovered the entirety of its first stage.
There was still one more surprise to be had. A couple of hours after Thursday’s launch, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared two photos of the fairing halves that encapsulated the Arabsat-6A satellite. These were recovered from the ocean, he said, and would be reused later this year during a launch of the company’s Starlink satellites.
Both fairing halves recovered. Will be flown on Starlink ? mission later this year. pic.twitter.com/ouz1aqW3Mm
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 12, 2019
This was an intriguing development, as it suggests that SpaceX may have, at least temporarily, given up on the idea of “catching” the fairing halves before they reach the water. Instead, they seem to have convinced themselves that fairings that land softly in the ocean can be refurbished despite saltwater concerns. By launching the used fairings on their own Starlink missions, SpaceX can effectively demonstrate the validity of this to future customers.