Falcon Heavy Achieves Epic Triple-Landing Feat, NASA Awards SpaceX Asteroid Redirect Contract

The scientists and engineers of SpaceX love to smash records. Their list of “firsts” is impressive and includes the first ever propulsive landing for an orbital rocket. Now, not only did SpaceX land three rocket boosters yesterday after their Falcon Heavy launch, but they have also received a NASA contract for an asteroid redirect mission.

spacex falcon heavy side booster landing
Footage of the landing the Falcon Heavy side boosters

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket was launched yesterday from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida shortly after 6pm EST. This was the first time SpaceX landed all three of the Falcon Heavy rocket boosters. The two side boosters landed simultaneously and the center core booster landed shortly afterwards. SpaceX had landed the side boosters before, but this was the first time they were also able to land the center core. It will be reused during a Starlinks mission later this year.

This was also the first commercial launch for the Falcon Heavy. The rocket’s mission was to deliver the Arabsat-6A communications satellite into orbit. The satellite is intended to provide Internet and mobile phone services for customers in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

SpaceX will soon be preparing for a different kind of mission. The company will provide launch services for NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. The purpose of this mission is to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid in hopes that the impact will redirect the asteroid. This process is known as “kinetic impactor” and this will be the first mission ever to test out the technique.

spacex falcon center core booster landing
Footage of the landing of the Falcon Heavy center core

A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch from the Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in June 2021. DART will use solar electronic propulsion to then collide with the moon of the asteroid Didymos in October 2020. The asteroid will be roughly 7.5 million miles (12 million kilometers) from the Earth. The project is expected to cost $69 million USD.

Let’s hope that SpaceX can keep up the momentum. The company has a very busy schedule this year, including the test launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. This will be SpaceX’s first test flight with astronauts. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will fly on the mission and splashdown in the sea. NASA hopes to be able to use companies like SpaceX and Boeing to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and on other missions. This would eliminate NASA’s current reliance on Russian rockets.