SpaceX has successfully launched the first-ever commercial mission of its Falcon Heavy rocket, the world's most powerful space vehicle in use today.
"T plus 33 seconds into flight, under the power of 5.1 million pounds of thrust, Falcon Heavy is headed to space," SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker said on a livestream.
The Falcons have landed
The rocket blasted off from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, carrying with it a telecoms satellite for Saudi Arabia-based firm Arabsat.
The high-capacity satellite, dubbed Arabsat-6A, has been built by Lockheed Martin. The company described Arabsat-6A as one of "the most advanced commercial communications satellites" ever built by Lockheed Martin.
Arabsat-6A will help in providing television, mobile and internet access to customers based in the Middle East, Africa and some parts of Europe.
It was only the second flight for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, and the first time that Elon Musk's spaceflight company managed to successfully land all three rocket boosters safely on Earth after the launch.
During the first test flight of Falcon Heavy in February last year, only two rocket boosters could land in one piece on the ground, while the middle booster crashed into water after running out of fuel.
On Thursday evening, the two lower boosters of the Falcon Heavy were separated from the rocket about three minutes after lift-off but then safely touched down on SpaceX's concrete pads on the Florida coastline.
The larger central core returned about 10 minutes later onto the company's remote-controlled barge in the Atlantic Ocean, according to Bloomberg.
"The Falcons have landed," Musk tweeted after the successful mission.
Successful deployment of Arabsat-6A to geosynchronous transfer orbit confirmed—completing Falcon Heavy's first commercial mission! pic.twitter.com/KeKTP99xvv— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 11, 2019
Falcon Heavy is twice as powerful as United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy, but costs just one-third of the price.
Thursday's launch was significant for Elon Musk's SpaceX organisation, which is currently in a race with United Launch Alliance to send humans to space from US soil.
Last month, SpaceX successfully demonstrated the first unmanned test flight of Crew Dragon capsule, ahead of the crewed mission planned for July.
The first uncrewed test flight for Boeing's Starliner capsule, atop ULA's Atlas 5 rocket, is expected to take place in August this year.
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