SpaceX, the private space company founded by Elon Musk, achieved a new milestone on Friday, October 13, 2023, by launching two rockets in one day from different coasts of the United States. The first rocket was a Falcon Heavy, which carried NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to explore a metal-rich asteroid. The second rocket was a Falcon 9, which deployed 22 Starlink internet satellites into low-Earth orbit.
Falcon Heavy launches NASA Psyche mission
The Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10:19 AM EDT, generating sonic booms from the three boosters that rattled buildings across the Space Coast. The rocket is the most powerful operational launch vehicle in the world, capable of lifting more than 140,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit.
The rocket’s payload was NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, a van-sized probe that will embark on a six-year journey to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft’s destination is a unique asteroid named Psyche, which is composed mostly of metal and has a diameter of about 140 miles. Scientists believe that Psyche could be the exposed core of an ancient planet that was stripped of its rocky mantle by collisions.
The Psyche mission aims to study the asteroid’s surface, composition, magnetic field, and history, in order to gain insights into the formation and evolution of planetary cores. The spacecraft is also equipped with an experimental optical communication system that could enable faster and more efficient data transmission beyond the Earth-moon system.
The Falcon Heavy launch marked the first time that SpaceX was contracted by NASA to launch a science mission. The launch also demonstrated SpaceX’s reusability capabilities, as all three boosters successfully landed back on Earth. The two side boosters landed at Cape Canaveral, while the center core landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
Falcon 9 launches Starlink satellites
Nine hours after the Falcon Heavy launch, SpaceX launched another rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 7:01 PM EDT, carrying 22 Starlink internet satellites into orbit. The launch was visible across Florida as the rocket soared into the sunset sky.
The Starlink satellites are part of SpaceX’s ambitious project to create a global broadband network that can provide high-speed internet access to remote areas of the world. SpaceX has already launched more than 1,800 Starlink satellites since 2019, and plans to deploy thousands more in the coming years.
The Falcon 9 launch also set a new record for the most flights by a single orbital-class rocket booster. The first stage of the rocket had previously flown 13 times, including missions to launch astronauts to the International Space Station, GPS satellites for the U.S. military, and cargo for NASA. After delivering the Starlink satellites to orbit, the booster landed for the 14th time on a drone ship named A Shortfall of Gravitas.
SpaceX had originally planned to launch the Starlink mission on Sunday, October 8, but had to abort the countdown with only 23 seconds remaining due to unfavorable upper-level winds. The company then decided to prioritize the NASA Psyche mission over the Starlink mission, and postponed the latter until Friday night.
SpaceX is expected to launch more Starlink missions soon from Cape Canaveral, as well as other missions from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and Kennedy Space Center in Florida.