SpaceX’s third flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket was a major success, despite being labelled the most complex launch to date. The mission named STP-2 took place on June 25, involving a number of challenging manoeuvres and four separate upper-stage engine burns.
The rocket was transporting 24 satellites belonging to agencies including NASA, the Department of Defense and the Planetary Society. The cargo also included NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock, used to navigate through the universe and a handful of cremated remains including that of Apollo 11 support astronaut Bill Pogue.
“This launch was a true partnership across government and industry, and it marked an incredible first for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The NASA missions aboard the Falcon Heavy also benefited from strong collaborations with industry, academia and other government organizations.”
The launch did not go without hitch with the rocket losing it’s center core booster, which missed its mark to land on a drone ship, crashing into the Atlantic twelve minutes after launching. This is the second time SpaceX has lost its core booster after launching. On a previous mission, SpaceX successfully landed the part on a floating platform, before it fell over into the ocean. Elon Musk later referred to the problem which caused this latest failure as, RUD or “rapid unscheduled disassembly”.
Nonetheless, the STP-2 mission demonstrated the reuse of the two side boosters which were used on a previous flight. Both side boosters were also landed without incident at the Cape Canaveral Landing Zone.
SpaceX has counted the mission as a huge achievement, despite losing the central core booster, successfully delivering the rocket’s payload to three separate orbits in their most challenging flight to date.