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Giant SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket Launches for First Time in Three Years

The powerful rocket returns for a classified mission for the US Space Force.

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Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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Eric Mack
2 min read
Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off

Falcon Heavy has only flown four times. 

SpaceX

The world's biggest operational rocket provided an extra treat on Nov. 1, the morning after Halloween, with the first Falcon Heavy launch since 2019 blasting off under a still spooky blanket of fog from Florida's Cape Canaveral.

Less than 10 minutes after liftoff, the rocket's side boosters returned for a successful, near simultaneous landing not far from the launch pad. The central core booster was disposed of in the ocean after sending a classified payload on its way to orbit for the US Space Force.

The Falcon Heavy mission dubbed USSF 44 launched from pad 39-A at Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 9:43 a.m. ET (6:43 a.m. PT) carrying a military micro-satellite prototype called TETRA-1 and a larger, unconfirmed satellite.

The mission was originally planned for 2020, but undisclosed payload issues have delayed it multiple times. 

Not long after SpaceX's big triple rocket got off the ground for the first time in 2018, it seemed to get forgotten in the hype around Elon Musk's even bigger Starship rocket and its companion Super Heavy booster, which NASA hopes will return astronauts to the moon and which Musk dreams of using to build a society on Mars.

But the most muscle in the SpaceX garage that's actually made it to space is still the Falcon Heavy. Its first flight sent a Tesla toward the red planet in 2018. It flew two more times, both in 2019.

Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together for three times the thrust. While the configuration is less powerful than NASA's delayed Artemis I Space Launch System or the Starship and Super Heavy will eventually be, it's currently the most powerful operational rocket in the world. 

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Watch this: SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Rocket Lifts Off

You can rewatch the launch above. Due to their classified status, the deployment of the satellites is not being streamed. 

SpaceX said that the landed side boosters may be used again in a future national security mission. That could happen as soon as January, although another Falcon Heavy launch of a commercial satellite is set to happen as early as December.