SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, the world's most-powerful active rocket, lifted off on Tuesday for the first time in more than three years through dense fog at Florida's Cape Canaveral, with Elon Musk's company sending satellites into orbit for the U.S. Space Force.
The rocket system, consisting of three Falcon 9 boosters strapped side-by-side, took off from a SpaceX launch pad, with two satellites from the Space Force and a group of smaller satellites bound for orbit. The Space Force did not provide details of its satellites and requested that SpaceX end its launch live stream early without showing their deployment.
The mission, the first Falcon Heavy launch since June 2019, had been delayed for years by Space Force, according to SpaceX officials. The rocket's debut in 2018 sent a red sports car from Elon Musk's other company, Tesla, into space as a test payload.
Tuesday's mission marked the first use of the rocket by the Space Force, a U.S. military branch established under former President Donald Trump to oversee much of the Pentagon's defense activities in space.
Roughly three minutes after launch, Falcon Heavy's two side boosters separated from the rocket's core stage in synchrony about 47 miles (29 km) above ground, diving backward for a supersonic free-fall toward land.
Minutes later, the pair of boosters, each some five stories tall, reignited their engines and landed almost simultaneously on adjacent concrete slabs, drawing roaring applause from engineers inside SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California, a company live stream showed.
The core booster did not attempt to land and used the entirety of its fuel to blast the satellites further into space.
SpaceX and its CEO Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur whose universe of high-tech companies now includes social media giant Twitter, has focused heavily in recent years on development of Starship, a bigger and fully reusable rocket intended eventually to succeed the company's Falcon fleet.
SpaceX hopes to launch Starship into orbit for the first time in December, NASA officials said on Monday.