SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Launches on 3rd Mission

The world’s strongest working rocket took flight once more early on Tuesday morning.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:30 a.m. Eastern time, its highly effective boosters lighting up the Space Coast with fiery trails, and later creating loud sonic booms as two of its flaming launch automobiles touched down efficiently on touchdown pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Those twin boosters landed upright and intact on landing pads at Cape Canaveral. But minutes later, the rocket’s center booster fared more poorly.

The booster attempted to land on a drone ship, called Of Course I Still Love, off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean. But live video from the ship showed the vehicle missing its target and making an explosive landing in water.

A week after launch, the massive sails will spread out and begin using sunlight to lift the cubesat into a higher orbit. The goal is to reach 450 miles above Earth, which would make LightSail-2 the first solar sail to use only the power of sunlight to enter a high orbit. It would then orbit Earth for about a year.

“We’ve made all sorts of vital and very significant improvements to the spacecraft. So I’m very excited about this.” said Bill Nye, the “science guy” and chief executive of the Planetary Society.

A NASA payload, this small satellite is a test of rocket fuel that is more environmentally friendly.

Most spacecraft use a propellant called hydrazine, which is highly toxic. To even be near hydrazine, a person must wear a protective Hazmat suit.

This new, less toxic fuel is made of a hydroxyl ammonium nitrate fuel/oxidizer blend, called AF-M315E that was originally developed by the Air Force but never used in space. Not only does this green propellant pose less of a threat to humans handling it, but it’s also more efficient.

To track missions in deep space, NASA and other space agencies rely on radio signals, waiting for them to traverse the long distances. Robotic probes constantly call home to Earth to confirm the current time and their location. But space agencies need a more timely way to track their spacecraft and their future human missions.

Atomic clocks track vibrations inside an atom like cesium, to measure time accurately. Aboard Global Positioning System satellites orbiting Earth, atomic clocks help precisely triangulate distances traveled over periods of time. But the technology has never been used in deep space. If the Deep Space Atomic Clock is tested successfully, future missions in deep space could navigate the solar system with something like GPS.

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