SpaceX carried out its first commercial launch on Thursday with its Falcon Heavy rocket tasked with placing a Saudi satellite in orbit.
The bright white rocket rose with a mighty roar and spewed thick gray smoke on the ground as it made its way up into clear blue skies over Cape Canaveral, Florida. It trailed a long stream of bright orange fire.
Boisterous spectators chanted along with the launch announcer who counted down the final 10 seconds before liftoff.
The rocket exerts 5.1 million pounds of thrust — that of more than a dozen jetliners, SpaceX said.
The rocket is to carry a Saudi Arabian satellite operated by Arabsat, a year after sending founder Elon Musk’s red Tesla roadster into orbit as a test.
The Falcon Heavy had been scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday but was delayed because of fierce winds in the upper atmosphere.
The job is to place the six-ton Arabsat-6A satellite into geostationary orbit about 22,500 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the Earth.
Less than 10 minutes into the flight, the rocket’s three boosters detached from the Falcon Heavy.
Two of them, as planned, landed safely back on pads at Cape Canaveral, to a roar of approval from the crowd.
A third landed, also as planned, on a barge at sea.
“Three for three boosters today,” a SpaceX webcast commentator said.