Falcon Heavy puts solar sail and much more in orbit

Launch pad video shows the Falcon Heavy liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket had its first night launch tonight, sending 24 different spacecraft toward three different types of orbit to test a wide range of technologies.

The triple-barreled rocket rose into the sky from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 2:30 a.m. ET Tuesday (11:30 p.m. PT Monday), kicking off the Defense Department’s Space Test Program-2 mission, or STP-2.

Minutes after launch, the Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters separated and flew themselves to two landing pads set up at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, not far from the launch pad. The twin touchdowns were greeted with raucous cheers from SpaceX employees watching the webcast at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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