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The second Falcon Heavy launch

I have embedded the live stream of Falcon Heavy launch below the fold. It does not go live until just before launch, which is now scheduled for 6;35 pm (Eastern).

The live stream is now live. I will post updates below, so refresh your screen to see them.

This is not a routine SpaceX launch, where we have become nonchalant about the company’s ability to vertically land a first stage. They admit getting the core stage back will be challenging. They also admit that this is essentially a countdown of three rockets, so they are going to be very conservative. If anything pops up during countdown, they will scrub and try another day.

They have launched.

The side boosters have successfully separated.

The center core stage has successfully separated.

Re-entry burns for the two side boosters has been completed.

Falcon Heavy core stage on drone ship

Re-entry burn on the core stage has been completed.

Both side boosters have landed.

The payload is in orbit.

The core stage has landed successfully on the drone ship.

Though the satellite has not yet been deployed, the rest of this mission is almost certainly going to go as planned, as it is essentially identical to a normal Falcon 9 launch. Update: payload successfully deployed!

Getting all three stages back is a notable achievement. They intend to recycle the two side cores and use them on the very next Falcon Heavy launch in June. The core stage will likely be reused as well but when has not yet been announced.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 SpaceX
4 China
4 Europe
3 Russia

The U.S. leads the pack 7 to 4 in the national rankings.

In the heavy lift launch race, SpaceX is by far in the lead in successful launches:

2 SpaceX
1 China

I should add that I am being generous to include China’s Long March 5 in this heavy lift list. It really doesn’t qualify, but it remains the only other near competitor.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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  • t-dub

    USA . . . USA . . . USA!!!

  • John

    That was awesome. For some reason, watching those rockets land never gets old.

    And this is just the beginning. They want to retire the falcon family once starship and the super heavy booster is flying. That may only be years away, and then…say goodbye SLS! Too bad, So sorry. Will you have even flown by then?

  • Captain Emeritus

    Thank you Mr. Musk!
    Incredible leadership!

  • t-dub: I prefer to chant “Freedom!… Freedom”… Freedom!” The U.S. might have symbolized freedom for the past two hundred years, but maybe no longer. It is freedom itself that made this success possible, and it was done despite the U.S. government’s efforts to get in the way.

  • Dick Eagleson

    I suspect the only reason the center core isn’t also slated for reuse on the next FH mission is that said mission is for DoD and they’re still working out a policy anent used boosters. Getting them to sign off on two used side cores is already impressive, but I suspect an all-used configuration was just – for now, at least – a bridge too far. DoD will embrace reusability, but they need awhile to get used to the idea – and, of course, to come up with all the bureaucratic procedures and paperwork needed for this new thing. The god of triplicate forms will not be mocked.

  • Orion314

    SLS ???? Bwaaaaahaaaaaahaaaa, If anyone reading this “works” on that forever virtual rocket, it is okay to do the honorable thing, and go hang yourself. You’ve stolen enough from the taxpayers. BTW , the launch from my backyard was fine!
    Thanx SpaceX !

  • Michael

    Not a Heavy but interesting. NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Asteroid Redirect Test Mission.


    A pretty good replacement for LUCY I should ting

  • Michael

    ting =think

  • Ian C.

    Robert: While I understand your differentiation between “Freedom” and “USA,” SpaceX was possible (should read: perhaps only possible) in the US. This isn’t a “the grass is greener” thing. I’m aware of the many downsides and there are many places and situations in the US I’d aim to avoid, but the US continue to have such tremendous upsides (most other countries just don’t have) that I’m already profiting from. And as a European I continue to equate the US with freedom. Freedom is never perfect and a free, strong country sees a lot of dirt and competing vested interests and all that. Insignificant, idyllic countries perhaps have no huge downsides, but they have no potential either and nobody would fight over it. Silly or not, but when I see the American flag, I’m happy. (Please forgive me my five minutes of kitsch feelings.)

  • A little song from Team America: World Police went through my head.

    Isn’t there an Olympic-themed meme already about today’s launch?

    Perhaps we should start awarding style points as part of the tally instead of merely noting successful launches. Apparently anyone can launch a rocket; there’s only one place you can get it back.

    Ian C.: Several years ago I read an interview with Elon Musk in which he was asked why he immigrated to America. His reply: “It is where great things are still possible.” It is a tragedy that most (judging by elections) Americans don’t understand that. We are living the dream, and all most (again, elections) people care about is their government benefits. As an American, that attitude is disgusting, but not all that surprising given decades of political focus on process rather than goals.

  • Ian C. I actually agree with you whole-heartedly, I just think it important to emphasize the ideas that have made the U.S. great. If it loses those ideas, it dies.

    You might want to read this two essays by me from past BtB posts:

    Elon Musk and the forgotten word

    A rocket reveals a fundamental truth about America

  • Col Beausabre

    1. Reusability – Federal Law prohibits the govt from buying used equipment. The procedure to certify that something as been remanufactured to “as new” condition is onerous. Are SpaceX recycled boosters “used”? Who owns them? Better minds than mine might know…Possible solutions a) Have the govt buy the launchers and contract SpaceX to maintain them b) Change the law to accommodate reality
    2. Re landing vertically – I remember someone saying after tail-first landing was first demonstrated years ago that it was “…as God and Robert Heinlein intended”

  • Edward

    Blair Ivey wrote: “Several years ago I read an interview with Elon Musk in which he was asked why he immigrated to America. His reply: ‘It is where great things are still possible.’

    I have used this quote on occasion, too. Interestingly, up until about 2008, these great things in space were not so possible. NASA and the Air Force had a monopoly on space, quite literally, with the Space Shuttle and what became ULA. Others who tried to get into the space business had a terrible time of it. Even Orbital Sciences, the most successful of the alternate companies, barely had any launches of small satellites. Dr. Alan Binder tried to make an independent, privately-funded lunar probe, but eventually had to go to NASA in order to get funding to finish it.

    That government monopoly changed for two reasons: First, the invention of the cubesat made independent satellites far more affordable. Second, NASA gave up its monopoly by starting the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, which not only allowed but encouraged independent launchers and spacecraft.

    This shows how fragile this possibility to do great things is. Even in the United States, this ability can slip away. Throughout the 1960s, we thought that NASA was enabling our freedoms in space, but it turned out that NASA took it away. Only in the past dozen years or so have We the People regained this possibility in space.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Ian C.,

    Have all the kitsch feelings you want – no time limit imposed.

    You are one of those people I refer to as “attitudinal Americans” who have simply been born somewhere else. There have been 10’s of millions of you since the founding of the Republic who have chosen to act on their inclinations and join we lucky native-borns here. Whether or not you are ever among such, know that you are both appreciated and welcome here for either a visit or to stay.

  • Ed

    Today’s launch should count as 3! Amazing job SpaceX

  • Ed: Heh. I’d like to, but it still only put one orbit.

  • Jeff

    Also, SpaceX reports both fairing halves recovered in good condition and will be reused!

    Per Elon tweet:
    “Both fairing halves recovered. Will be flown on Starlink ? mission later this year”

  • Lee S

    Bob… I remember you saying on the space show ” we are in a holding pattern” regarding private space… Too many times to count!

    SpaceX has well and truly broken that pattern!

    It’s like acctualy living in a sci fi movie! :-D

  • Richard M

    Hello Bob,

    Nice recap.

    Are we not counting Delta IV Heavy as heavy lift at this point?

    (Thinking of NROL-71 launched back in January.)

  • Richard M

    “It’s like actually living in a sci fi movie! :-D”

    We finally got our Delos Harriman – just a few decades later than we thought.

    I’m sad that Heinlein didn’t live to see it, but at least Jerry Pournelle was around for the early chapters.

  • Richard M

    Follow up to my first post: Oh, I think I see what you’re up to: You’re counting total launches by vehicle, not just 2019; though that still leaves the question of what we call Delta IV Heavy…

    But then the whole question of what qualifies as “heavy lift” is quite arbitrary, as I suppose *any* classification scheme must be, unless tied to some specific capability. NASA defines “heavy lift” as 20mT to 50mT, and “super heavy lift” as anything over 50mT. Accepting *that* definition, there are seven heavy lift rockets in operation, though three (D4H, Ariane 5, Proton-M) are long-established boosters scheduled for retirement, and a fourth (Angara) is as dormant as a smallpox virus.

    But if it is just “super heavy lift,” Falcon Heavy is the ONLY game on the planet, with Long March 9, SLS, Yenisei (hah!) and SH/Starship in development. New Glenn, Ariane 6, and Vulcan will only be “heavy lift” (though I have the sneaky feeling that New Glenn might end up with a little more capability than Blue Origin is letting on…).

  • Richard M: With each future Falcon Heavy launch I am going to continue to list this heavy list ranking. The list here was off the cuff and incorrect. Long March 5 and Delta Heavy wouldn’t qualify. The list will include Falcon Heavy, SLS, Yenisei, and Long March 9, as these are all designed to get more than 50 tons in orbit.

    I expect the list will show the Falcon Heavy as the only one launching for many many years to come. The list will be quite entertaining, as it will clearly illustrate of the success of freedom versus government-controlled programs.

  • Edward

    Col Beausabre wrote: “Reusability – Federal Law prohibits the govt from buying used equipment.

    Fortunately, the government is not buying the equipment, just the service. Possession remains in SpaceX’s hands. SpaceX can offer flights on previously flown equipment, similar to flying on a commercial airliner that has previously flown.

    I think that the government is unused to flying on previously flown (proved) commercial rockets and spacecraft, and they will take a little time to get used to the idea. Their best experience with reusability was with their own equipment, the Space Shuttle and its Solid Rocket Boosters. That did not go well, and they understood that one much better than they understand the Falcons.

    I think that the government is unused to flying on rockets that it does not directly oversee. SpaceX, not the government, came up with the design requirements, and it is my understanding that there is not a DCMA (Defense Contract Management Agency) office at SpaceX, but it oversaw the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program (which evolved into ULA).

  • Richard M

    Hello Bob,

    “The list will be quite entertaining, as it will clearly illustrate of the success of freedom versus government-controlled programs.”

    And it will also illustrate that we truly are at the dawn of a new golden age of space exploration (and exploitation). And this golden age should be far more sustainable than the last one!

  • Richard M

    Hello Edward,

    “Fortunately, the government is not buying the equipment, just the service.”

    This point is important; the distinction is lost on too many.

    An aerospace engineer I know is very fond of the analogy of Antarctic exploration – and why it serves as an example of how space exploration can and must play out.

    The U.S. Antarctic Program current operates three Antarctic research bases (McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott, and Palmer), between them staffed by no more than 1,500 personnel. It does this on a budget of less than $400 million a year. If it had to develop, build, and operate its own cargo ships and transport planes to supply them and improve them, there is no *way* it could hope to do so. So what it does instead is to charter big cargo ships by outfits like Maersk, and the occasional U.S. Air Force Globemaster, to move what supplies, people, and materials it needs to (and from) these bases. And the truth is, these bases were only *politically* possible once they became that *economical* to reach and supply, which is what happened in the mid-20th century.

    This is how ISS now operates, and it is how any lunar stations are going to have to operate. Commercial companies must lower the cost of access to space to the point where realistic (i.e., not Apollo) NASA budgets could afford to go there, just as the Antarctic Program could only go to Antarctica once sea and air transport costs made it affordable to go to Antarctica. And thanks to SpaceX and companies following it, that is now happening.

    You buy the service, not the hardware. Just like the U.S. Antarctic Program does.

  • pzatchok

    Great launch. Stunning.

    I was wondering if SpaceX could increase the size of the fairing to carry larger cargo? At least computer modeling and testing.

  • Max

    A larger fairing would be necessary in certain circumstances. For instance, Bob Bigelow’s hotel would be bulky but not heavy. Also a 3-D printing machine, large enough for manufacturing in orbit for awkward, unusually shaped, or heavy items that cannot be placed in orbit. (Dead satellites could be used for raw materials until lunar mines can provide bulk)
    If constructed for the purpose, the faring itself could become a habitation module utilizing the efficiency of being nearly in orbit already anyway.
    The possibilities are only limited by our imagination and engineering…

  • David M. Cook

    By saving, rather than discarding, 3 first stages (as well as the fairing!) SpaceX has shoveled another $40 million into it‘s pocket. Way to go, Mr. Musk!

  • Edward

    Richard M,
    The space economy is a good topic. Many have long believed that launch costs needed to come down in order to make a significant space economy affordable to start, and that was what Peter Diamandis’s first X-Prize was all about, reusable boosters and suborbital craft that could be an inspiration for inexpensive orbital access.

    I also use some analogies for space. Space stations have some similarities to submarines, and your antarctic analogy fits many similarities, too. Space has additional benefits that the antarctic does not, however. Being in freefall allows microgravity research, exploration, and manufacturing to be far more possible (e.g. many ball bearings can be made in Earthbound drop towers and need not be made in space).

    SpaceX may be planning to use BFR (Super Heavy and a cargo version of Starship) as their larger fairing. If BFR is as inexpensive to launch as SpaceX has suggested, access to space should be amazingly inexpensive. 100,000 kg for around $10 million would be around $100 per kg (~$50 per pound), which is significantly less than the $3,000 per kg for Falcon Heavy, which is still much less than the $10,000 per kg just a decade ago.

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