SpaceX's Falcon Heavy takes to the skies

With liftoff, the Heavy became the most powerful rocket in use today.

Posted: Feb 6, 2018 3:21 PM
Updated: Feb 6, 2018 4:47 PM

(CNN Money) -- SpaceX has done it again.

The pioneering rocket firm just pulled off the unexpected, and carried out what appears to be a seamless first-ever launch of its massive new rocket, called Falcon Heavy.

That makes SpaceX the owner of the world's most powerful operational rocket.

Falcon Heavy took flight Tuesday around 3:45 pm ET from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

About two and a half minutes after launch, the two side boosters on the rocket detached and headed back to Earth.

The rocket is built by SpaceX, the game-changing company helmed by billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Thousands of onlookers could be heard cheering on the company's livestream.

In the run up to launch, it wasn't at all clear whether the rocket would work.

"People [came] from all around the world to see what will either be a great rocket launch or the best fireworks display they've ever seen," Elon Musk said in an interview with CNN's Rachel Crane.

Related: Falcon Heavy: How it stacks up with other massive rockets

In a never-before-seen feat, SpaceX also managed to guide at least two of the Falcon Heavy's first-stage rocket boosters to land upright back on Earth. They cut back through the Earth's atmosphere and landed in unison at a Kennedy Space Center landing pad. The third booster was supposed to land on a sea-faring platform called a droneship, but it wasn't immediately clear if that landing was successful.

On board the rocket that's now headed deeper into space is Musk's personal Tesla roadster. At the wheel is a dummy dressed in a spacesuit, and the car is blaring David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on an endless loop. Cameras on board the car showed it still headed deeper into outer space. Musk plans to put the car into orbit around the sun.

Related: Everything you need to know about SpaceX's Falcon Heavy

SpaceX has shaken up the rocket industry by becoming the first company to successfully reuse rocket boosters in order to bring down the cost of spaceflight. To do that, it guides the rockets back to Earth for a safe landing after sending their payloads toward orbit.

Before SpaceX came along, it was commonplace to just discard rocket boosters -- which are the most expensive part of the rocket -- after each mission.

The Falcon Heavy is not, however, the most powerful rocket in history. That honor belongs to NASA's Saturn V rocket, which was used for the Apollo moon landings and was retired in the 1970s.

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