A sting in the tail: Reusable rockets are at the core of SpaceX's business model, and this launch was the first time the US Defense Department has permitted its hardware to be launched on a used rocket.
Managed by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Test Program 2 - STP-2 - mission marked the Pentagon's first use of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket for "one of the most challenging missions the Space and Missile Systems Center has ever launched", said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Air Force Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate.
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 Defense Department mission is expected to provide data to certify the Falcon Heavy - and reused boosters - for future national security launches. The Heavy consists of three modified, strapped-together Falcon 9 first stages; a second stage and the payloads sit atop the central booster.
The Falcon Heavy STP-2 on the launch pad.
SpaceX said this was not unexpected for the especially hard mission.
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. It is using the same ones from the second launch back in April.
But that disappointment was followed by a major victory that SpaceX announced about an hour later on Tuesday: The rocket's nose cone, or fairing, landed safely into a giant net hoisted up by a crew boat, nicknamed "Ms. Tree". The center core booster failed to make its landing on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean. Mr Pogue died in 2014.
"This will be our most hard launch ever", SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted last week. The launch itself was actually delayed by several hours, with the rocket eventually firing in the wee hours of the morning. Also on board is an atomic clock for space navigation and space weather research. Dubbed LightSail 2, the spacecraft-which is backed by science communicator and head of the society Bill Nye-will attempt the first controlled flight in Earth's orbit powered by solar sails.
The mission, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is due to send into orbit the fifth in the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) series of satellites created to provide jam-proof and highly secure connectivity for the USA military.