SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy for First Time in Three Years

The Falcon 9 has been the workhorse of SpaceX’s operational rockets. On October 20, 2022, it made its 48th launch for 2022, setting a new record for number of launches made by a single rocket model in a calendar year.

The Falcon Heavy sees less use but can launch bigger payloads. It made its first launch in three years, sending up a classified payload for the USSF on November 1.

Public information on the payload indicates that it launched a prototype micro-satellite called TETRA-1 and another, larger satellite that is presumably the classified payload. The mission had originally been slated for 2020, but got delayed due to unspecified issues with the payload.

Naturally, SpaceX landed the first stage boosters on one of its drone barges, marketing the 150th and 151st recovery of boosters capable of sending payloads into orbit. This also marks SpaceX’s 50th successful launch for this year.

The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world with three times the thrust of the Falcon 9. The SLS and SpaceX’s Starship/Super Heavy stack are still in the testing phase.

The Falcon Heavy famously sent a Tesla Model 3 with a spacesuit in the driver’s seat toward Mars in 2018, though the Model 3 missed and is still floating around in space somewhere. Even so, the launch inspired comic books.

The Falcon Heavy also flew twice in 2019. However, there doesn’t seem to be as much demand for using it to launch payloads as the Falcon 9 gets. The Falcon 9 taps the market for small satellite launches with its dedicated Transporter missions and frequently launches Starlink satellites.

The Falcon Heavy may also be getting sandwiched between the Falcon 9 and the promise that Starship can deploy bigger satellites or bigger payloads of multiple small satellites. Elon Musk previously floated the idea of using Starship to send up more Starlink satellites with each launch. The U.S. military also expressed interest in using Starship for rapid deployment of supplies to disaster zones on Earth.

SpaceX plans for Starship being capable of sending people to the Moon or Mars. It has a contract with NASA to develop a Starship-derived lunar lander for the Artemis Program. SpaceX’s Human Landing System is slated to launch on Artemis III. Dennis Tito recently booked a flight to the Moon on Starship.

However, Starship has been getting delayed by regulatory red tape – which, of course, Elon Musk groused about. The planned orbital test of Starship could have happened during the summer of 2021, but kept getting held up by required environmental studies and the sheer number of comments that the FCC got.

The Falcon Heavy could launch again as soon as December with a commercial satellite on board. The boosters that SpaceX retrieved yesterday could also be used for another national security mission as soon as January.