SpaceX Launches First Commercial Rocket Into Orbit, With Saudi Satellite

Eight minutes after liftoff SpaceX lands two of the first-stage boosters side by side at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Fla. Thursday

The launch took place from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center this evening.

Eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX landed two of the first-stage boosters back at Cape Canaveral, side by side, just like it did for the rocket's debut previous year.

But the takeoff also demonstrated, for the first time, that all three of the craft's reusable rockets could successfully pilot themselves back to Earth outside of a testing scenario.

The webcast should begin about 20 minutes before the rocket's anticipated liftoff. That's the only part of the first mission that missed.

SpaceX has several paying customers committed to flying on Falcon Heavy, including Inmarsat, Viastat and Arabsat, according to its launch manifest.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine last month suggested possibly using a Falcon Heavy - and another company's big rocket - to get the space agency's Orion capsule around the Moon in 2020, minus a crew.

Introducing a new ultra-powerful rocket has allowed SpaceX to compete directly with arch rival United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, for lucrative government contracts that require heavy-lift launch vehicles. The red Roadster - with a mannequin at the wheel - remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars.

However, with Musk's company intent on driving down launch costs by recycling rocket parts, the boosters for this flight may be re-used for future missions.

Falcon Heavy carried a communications satellite for Saudi-based telecom firm Arabsat, which will beam internet and television services over Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

"The Falcons have landed", Musk said in a tweet that included pictures of all three boosters.

The YouTube window below will go live shortly before the launch window opens, assuming SpaceX doesn't push it back at the last minute.

The U.S. Air Force tapped SpaceX in 2018 to launch for $130 million a classified military satellite and in February added three more missions in a $297 million contract.

Falcon Heavy is not expected to fly almost as often as its smaller counterpart, which has completed more than 20 missions since last February.

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