Launch occurred at 0630 UTC on 25 June and the side boosters of the heavy lifter were shut down and separated from the centre core approximately 2 minutes 30 seconds later. The boosters, previously used for the last Falcon Heavy launch, headed back to briefly light up Landing Zones 1 and 2 with a synchronised touchdown.
The remaining Falcon 9 first stage continued its burn for another minute before it too was shut down and separated from the second stage of the Falcon Heavy.
Unlike the side boosters, the centre core was faced with what the SpaceX PAO breathlessly described as “the most difficult landing we’ve had to date” with the spent booster coming in fast towards the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, which was stationed twice as far into the North Atlantic Ocean (from Port Canaveral) than usual.
Not that anything involving landing the first stage of an orbital booster on its end atop a platform at sea should ever be described as something so mundane as “usual”.
SpaceX has yet to successfully recover a Falcon Heavy centre stage. The maiden launch of the rocket saw the stage undergo a rapid disassembly after its engines failed to reignite to slow the thing down. The second did land, but subsequently toppled over.
Third time was, alas, not the charm. While the engines (the centre and two extra) ignited as planned, cameras on the drone ship captured the returning first stage appearing to miss the barge before creating its own night-into-day moment with a spectacular explosion.
And the fairing? Much whooping could be heard as SpaceX finally managed to catch one half in the net strung atop Ms Tree (pic here), the ship formerly known as Mr Steven. This was the first time the company has accomplished the feat. The other half will be recovered from the water.