SpaceX shares stunning images of its latest Falcon Heavy launch

SpaceX's fifth-ever Falcon Heavy launch carried the U.S. Space Force's first mission of the year to orbit.
Chris Young
Falcon Heavy launching mission USSF-67.
Falcon Heavy launching mission USSF-67.

SpaceX / Twitter 

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, which was recently overtaken by NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) as the world's most powerful operational rocket, performed its fifth launch over the weekend.

The massive rocket, composed of three modified Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Sunday, January 15. It took to the skies at 5:56 pm EST (22:56 GMT), taking with it a classified payload for a U.S. Space Force mission called USSF-67.

While we can't know much about the payloads Falcon Heavy sent to orbit due to the sensitive nature of the mission, SpaceX has provided some impressive imagery of the launch.

Falcon Heavy launches the U.S. Space Force's first mission of the year

The little we do know about U.S. Space Force's mission USSF-67 is that it carried one military communication satellite and five smaller payloads to orbit. The military communication satellite is the Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM 2 (CBAS-2), which was deployed to a geostationary orbit roughly 22,200 miles (35,700 kilometers) above Earth's surface.

SpaceX shares stunning images of its latest Falcon Heavy launch
Falcon Heavy at launch of mission USSF-67.

The mission also carried the Long Duration Propulsive ESPA (LDPE)-3A, a payload adapter that has the capacity to carry six small satellites into orbit. For this mission, it carried five, as per Space.com.

Falcon Heavy is made up of three modified Falcon 9 boosters. The central booster also features a payload-carrying first stage that detaches and is propelled toward orbit shortly after launch.

SpaceX shares stunning images of its latest Falcon Heavy launch
Falcon Heavy heading toward orbit.

Before that happens, the two reusable side boosters detach and come back down to Earth for one of SpaceX's iconic side-by-side booster landings. The central booster, meanwhile, is not reused. For USSF-67, it splashed down and was discarded in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX shares stunning images of its latest Falcon Heavy launch
The 27 Merlin engines powering Falcon Heavy off the launch pad.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is powered by 27 Merlin engines, generating a total thrust of 5 million lbs at launch. That makes it the world's second-most powerful operational rocket after NASA's SLS, which generates 9.5 million lbs of thrust.

SpaceX shares stunning images of its latest Falcon Heavy launch
A timelapse image of Falcon Heavy flying to orbit.

SpaceX's in-development fully-reusable Starship rocket is expected to blow the competition away, however. The next-generation launch vehicle is expected to produce a massive 17 million lbs of thrust using the company's proprietary Raptor engines. It could launch as soon as next month, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Impressive footage from SpaceX's Falcon Heavy launch

Watching Falcon Heavy take flight is always a sight to behold, and the weather conditions were particularly favorable for photographers and videographers this time around. SpaceX also shared impressive video footage of the launch of USSF-67, including a sped-up video of the launch up to the landing of one of the Falcon boosters.

USSF-67 was the fifth launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy since it first took to the skies in February 2018, taking with it Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster and a mannequin wearing a spacesuit called Starman. Every successive launch of the massive rocket has impressed space enthusiasts worldwide with those side-by-side booster landings.

In November last year, SpaceX used Falcon Heavy to send another U.S. Space Force mission, called USSF-44, to orbit. It was the first Falcon Heavy launch in more than three years due to payload delays. We won't have to wait anywhere near as long to see the next launch of Falcon Heavy, as the powerhouse is currently scheduled to launch the satellite ViaSat-3 in March this year.

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