SpaceX launched its heftiest rocket with 24 research satellites Tuesday, a middle-of-the-night rideshare featuring a deep space atomic clock, solar sail, a clean and green rocket fuel testbed, and even human ashes. It was the third flight of a Falcon Heavy rocket, but the first ordered by the military. The Defense Department mission, dubbed STP-2 for Space Test Program, is expected to provide data to certify the Falcon Heavy—and reused boosters—for future national security launches. It marked the military's first ride on a recycled rocket. Both side boosters landed back at Cape Canaveral several minutes after liftoff, just as they did after launching in April, the AP reports. But the new core booster missed an ocean platform, not unexpected for this especially difficult mission, SpaceX noted.
The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today. Each first-stage booster has nine engines, for a total of 27 firing simultaneously at liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. NASA signed up for a spot on the rocket, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Planetary Society, and Celestis Inc., which offers memorial flights into space. An astronaut who flew on NASA's first space station back in the 1970s, Skylab's Bill Pogue, had a bit of his ashes on board, along with more than 150 other deceased people. Pogue died in 2014. The Air Force Research Laboratory had space weather experiments aboard, while NOAA had six small atmospheric experimental satellites for weather forecasting.
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