SpaceX pulls off impressive feat in rocket’s commercial debut

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc and Space Exploration Technologies Inc known as SpaceX, speaks at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (Bloomberg pic)

SAN FRANCISCO: Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp launched its massive Falcon Heavy rocket Thursday for Saudi Arabia’s Arabsat, the rocket’s first mission for a paying customer.

Falcon Heavy rumbled aloft at 6:35 pm local time from NASA’s Kennedy Space Station in Florida. SpaceX then recovered all three of the boosters back on Earth, achieving a feat it wasn’t able to pull off in the rocket’s demonstration flight last year.

The two side boosters simultaneously returned to land and the centre core touched down on a drone ship hundreds of nautical miles out in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The Falcons have landed,” Musk tweeted.

SpaceX’s mission was to deploy Arabsat-6A, a high-capacity telecommunications satellite that will deliver television, radio, Internet and mobile communications to customers in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, according to a press kit.

SpaceX set a company record last year with 21 launches for customers.

Much of the focus this year is on the first flight with humans on board: SpaceX and Boeing Co have contracts with NASA to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew program.

SpaceX completed its Demo-1 flight for the program in March. The next key steps are an in-flight abort test, followed by the first flight with two astronauts.