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Jason DavisFebruary 6, 2018

Falcon Heavy launches successfully!

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched on its maiden test flight Tuesday. Throughout the day, I updated this story as events unfolded. Scroll on for a recap, starting in the morning and ending with the final burn toward Mars.

11:15 a.m. EST

Hello from Kennedy Space Center! Today, SpaceX will attempt to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket on a demo flight. If you need to brush up on the flight, here are our previous articles:

Preview: Succeed or fail, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy test sure to be a blast (Feb. 1)

Let's talk about Elon Musk launching his Tesla into space (Feb. 5)

Reporter's notebook: 'Twas the night before Falcon Heavy (Feb. 5)

Today's launch window opens at 1:30 p.m. EST. A SpaceX representative told us the live webcast will begin around 1:10 p.m. Here's the link for that, and here's a timeline of events, straight from the SpaceX press kit:

Falcon Heavy demo timeline of events


Falcon Heavy demo timeline of events

And here's a quick shot from the press site:

Falcon Heavy before launch

Jason Davis / The Planetary Society

Falcon Heavy before launch

12:15 p.m. EST

The launch time has slipped to 2:20 p.m. EST due to upper-level winds. Today's launch window extends through 4:00 p.m. EST, according to SpaceX's press kit.

T-0 delayed to 2:20 p.m. EST, 19:20 UTC due to upper level wind shear. Continuing to monitor winds and will update as info becomes available.

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 6, 2018

Elon Musk tweeted a diagram of today's launch and landing sequence. Here it is:

Falcon Heavy launch and landing sequence


Falcon Heavy launch and landing sequence

1:45 p.m. EST

The upper-level winds at Cape Canaveral continue to be a problem, but controllers have set a launch time of 3:45 p.m. EST. 

Clock is counting again in the press room, for now, approaching T-2 hours ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

— Jason Davis (@jasonrdavis) February 6, 2018

2:00 p.m. EST

We're pushing to 3:45 p.m. Stay tuned.

Launch auto-sequence initiated (aka the holy mouse-click) for 3:45 liftoff #FalconHeavy

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 6, 2018

3:25 p.m. EST

SpaceX's webcast should be going live now. We've embedded the YouTube player here:

Please accept marketing-cookies to watch this video.

4:15 p.m. EST

SUCCESS! The Falcon Heavy's second stage and Tesla payload are now in Earth orbit. Liftoff occurred at 3:45 p.m. EST. Both of the Falcon Heavy side boosters successfully returned to Cape Canaveral for upright landings. The fate of the center core, which was supposed to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, is unclear. A flight controller said "we lost the center core" on the launch feed, but SpaceX has yet to clarify whether that meant the signal dropped, or if the booster crashed. 

The second stage is on a six-hour coast before it re-lighting to propel the Tesla on to Mars.

In any case, it's safe to call the test flight a success. Congrats, SpaceX!

Falcon Heavy liftoff

Jason Davis / The Planetary Society

Falcon Heavy liftoff
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy lifts off from Kennedy Space Center pad 39A on its inaugural test flight.
Double booster landing


Double booster landing
The Falcon Heavy core stage boosters return to Cape Canaveral for landing during the inaugural test flight.
Inbound boosters

Jason Davis / The Planetary Society

Inbound boosters
The Falcon Heavy's side boosters fall to Earth for upright landings during the vehicle's test flight.

4:45 p.m. EST

Live views of the Starman, riding in the Tesla, orbiting Earth:

Please accept marketing-cookies to watch this video.

5:15 p.m. EST

An image of Starman over Australia:

Starman over Australia


Starman over Australia
SpaceX's "Starman" riding in Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster following the SpaceX Falcon Heavy test flight.

8:00 p.m. EST 

Elon Musk held a press conference this evening with reporters at Kennedy Space Center:

Elon Musk at Falcon Heavy press conference

Jason Davis / The Planetary Society

Elon Musk at Falcon Heavy press conference
Elon Musk watches a video montage of the first successful Falcon Heavy test flight.

Here's a Twitter thread recapping the highlights (I was wrong about the live stream, by the way; ABC had one):

Press conference with Elon Musk starting. Sadly, no public stream but the room is packed with tweeting space reporters

— Jason Davis (@jasonrdavis) February 7, 2018

And a clarification on the fate of the center core:

Musk clarifies center booster landing: We hit the water at about 500 kph, about 100 meters from ship. Was enough to take out two drone ship thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel (says he's still waiting on full confirmation of that)

— Jason Davis (@jasonrdavis) February 7, 2018

And the mission patch!

Mission patch and Starman, as the post-launch timer continues to tick

— Jason Davis (@jasonrdavis) February 7, 2018

9:00 p.m. EST (final update)

After a six-hour coast, the upper stage re-lit its engine to kick out of Earth orbit and on to Mars. 

Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 7, 2018

As an added bonus, the final burn occured over SpaceX headquarters in Southern California. It was visible in other regions of the southwest, too: The MMT Observatory in Arizona captured this view with their all-sky camera:

the #spacex solar orbit insertion burn as seen from @mmtobservatory...

— Timothy Pickering (@te_pickering) February 7, 2018

Read more: Commercial spaceflight

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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