SpaceX has launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in one of its most challenging missions, and is carrying a variety of cargo from 24 satellites to human remains.
Lifting off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the mission – dubbed the STP-2 for Space Test Program – saw spots reserved for material from a multitude of companies.
These included a deep space atomic clock and rocket fuel test-bed from NASA, and a solar sail from the Planetary Society and Celestis Inc.
The ashes of 152 people including Bill Pogue, an astronaut who worked aboard NASA’s first space station, secured a space aboard the hefty rocket.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Air Force Research Laboratory also reserved spots.
It will take several hours to release all 24 satellites aboard the rocket as they need to be placed into three different orbits – a task that requires multiple firings from upper-stage engines.
The mission, which is said to be one of the most difficult for SpaceX, is the third for the Falcon Heavy, but is the first ordered by the US Department of Defence.
It is hoping to certify the recycled rocket and its boosters for further military-ordered launches.
Both side boosters on the Falcon successfully landed a few minutes after lift-off on Tuesday, but the new core booster missed its landing platform.
SpaceX said this missed landing was not unexpected due to the difficulty of the mission.
The launch of NASA’s atomic clock is part of a demonstration leading to the planned creation of a self-navigating spacecraft, while its rocket fuel test-bed is an experiment to find an environmentally friendly alternative.
The solar sail is part of an attempt to launch the first successful orbiting spacecraft that operates by converting energy from the sun.