SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket put on a dazzling display of fireworks on Sunday night A heavy lifter carried two government payloads into space. About eight minutes later, spectators were treated to a double landing of the rocket’s two side boosters heading back to Cape Canaveral.
A sonic boom crackled overhead to mark SpaceX’s 163rd and 164th successful booster recovery. The rocket’s central core was dumped into the ocean because it needed the fuel needed to carry its payload to orbit.
One spectator in particular captured incredibly detailed footage of Falcon Heavy’s carefully choreographed orbital ballet, helping each rocket land.
SpaceX’s rocket consists of four main components. A first stage, a second (or upper) stage, an interstage connecting the two, and a payload fairing that houses the cargo and satellites carried by the rocket.
Two of these components, the first stage and the payload fairing, are designed to be reused and together account for nearly 70% of the rocket’s cost, according to SpaceX.
After a SpaceX rocket launches, it undergoes a series of steps designed to ensure that the payload reaches its intended trajectory. However, after the first and second stages separate, the second stage continues to carry the payload. Meanwhile, the first stage prepares to return to Earth, landing on a floating platform on land or in the ocean.
As the first stage separates, the boosters begin a sort of orbital ballet, flipping in mid-air, firing three engines as part of a boostback burn, then veering toward landing.This flip operation can be seen in detail In the launch video of Astronomy Live.
The boostback burn is the first of the three landing burns required to slow the rocket down so it can avoid a forced landing. The booster then deploys a set of titanium grid fins used to steer the rocket. The spacecraft then briefly lights up the engines again for entry combustion as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
The booster is guided to the landing site with the help of grid fins and eventually the engine lights up.
SpaceX has recovered rockets this way since it recovered the first booster at Cape Canaveral in 2015.