During an impressive dual launch event, SpaceX successfully deployed a military spaceplane and 23 Starlink satellites into orbit.

During an impressive dual launch event, SpaceX successfully deployed a military spaceplane and 23 Starlink satellites into orbit.

Beginning with an exciting double launch, a strong SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket took off from the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, propelled by a powerful burst of fiery exhaust. Its mission was to place an unmanned X-37B spaceplane into orbit for a confidential, extended military operation.

A group of SpaceX engineers at the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station launched a single-core Falcon 9 rocket, known for its reliability, just two hours and 54 minutes after the previous launch. This is believed to be the shortest time between two U.S. orbit-class missions since the mid 1960s. These two missions were the 95th and 96th for SpaceX in 2021.


A Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX launches from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday evening, transporting an unmanned X-37B spaceplane for the U.S. Space Force.

William Harwood/CBS News

The Falcon Heavy successfully launched, providing a stunning display for local residents and visitors. Its 27 Merlin engines, with nine in each of the three Falcon 9 boosters, were ignited at 8:07 p.m. EST, producing a powerful blast of fire and a rumbling sound that could be felt on the ground.

The flight was postponed due to forecasted inclement weather and later due to issues with ground equipment. The rocket was transported away from the launch pad and brought back to a SpaceX facility for further maintenance. It was then returned to pad 39A earlier this week.

This time, everything went smoothly. The two side boosters, on their fifth flight, assisted in propelling the vehicle through the thick lower atmosphere before detaching from the core stage at two-and-a-half minutes into the launch. They quickly turned around, changed direction, and returned to the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Accompanied by deafening sonic booms, both boosters gracefully landed in Florida, marking the 40th and 41st successful touchdown in the state.


After the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy on Thursday, SpaceX quickly launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a single core less than three hours later. This rocket carried 23 additional Starlink internet satellites into orbit. The photo captured the rocket’s bright trail in the sky above Christmas lights in Merritt Island, Florida.

Reworded: This article was written by William Harwood for CBS News.

After the two side boosters separated, the nine engines of the central core stage continued to fire for 90 seconds before shutting down and separating from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage. Unlike the side boosters, the core stage was intended to use all of its propellant without any plans for recovery.

Information about the ascent to the desired orbit for the second part of the mission was not disclosed. As is customary for confidential military operations, SpaceX concluded its coverage of the launch after the successful landing of the side boosters, approximately eight and a half minutes after liftoff.

The SpaceX engineers at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station continued with the launch of the single-core Falcon 9 and its payload of 23 Starlink satellites after successfully launching the Falcon Heavy.

Before the flight, SpaceX had sent 5,627 Starlink satellites into orbit through 131 flights since May 2019. According to space statistician Jonathan McDowell, of the total number launched, 5,211 were believed to be in working condition. With Thursday’s flight, the total number of Starlinks launched in 2021 rose to 1,984 from 63 Falcon 9 flights.

The Falcon Heavy completed its ninth flight, while the X-37B is on its seventh mission.


A depiction of the X-37B spaceplane in outer space, featuring a solar array emerging from its small payload bay.


The Pentagon’s Rapid Capabilities Office oversees the operation of two nearly identical X-37B Orbital Test Vehicles (OTVs) for the U.S. Space Force. These vehicles are specifically designed to test avionics and advanced sensors, assess the feasibility of reusable spacecraft components, and serve as a base for experiments that can be brought back to Earth for further study.

The X-37B, manufactured by Boeing, resembles a smaller version of a space shuttle and includes features such as delta wings, heat shield tiles, and a compact payload bay. In contrast to NASA’s shuttle that used fuel cells for energy while in space, the X-37B has a retractable solar array that enables extended missions.

The smaller spacecrafts are built to complete their objectives by landing on runways at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California or the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, utilizing 3-mile-long runways that were initially constructed for the space shuttle.

The most recent X-37B flight started on May 17, 2020, when it was launched from a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. It concluded on November 12, 2022, when it landed at the Kennedy Space Center after spending 908 days and 21 hours in space.

Since its initial launch in April 2010, the two X-37Bs have completed a total of six flights, accumulating 10.3 years in space. The expected length of the current mission has not been disclosed.



Source: cbsnews.com