SpaceX dazzles with first launch of the year

- SpaceX’s first launch of the year – a secret satellite codenamed Zuma – lit up the Florida sky Sunday evening, putting on a dramatic show in the process.

The unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral on time at 8 p.m. with a brilliant flame visible for hundreds of miles.  Just over two minutes later, the first stage separated and began its pre-landing braking burn while the second stage accelerated towards orbit.  

For a few moments, the dueling rockets’ exhaust flows interacted in the upper atmosphere, creating a colorful, almost nebula-like display over the Florida coast.  It was similar to – but still slightly different than – the exhaust plume that startled many California residents after a west coast launch late last year.

Meanwhile, SpaceX ended its launch commentary five minutes into the flight due to the classified nature of the U.S. satellite.  

Northrop Grumman provided the satellite, but wouldn't say for which government agency. The name Zuma refers to a Southern California beach.

Last year was a banner year for SpaceX, with 18 launches. It's aiming for more this year, including the debut of the Falcon Heavy – a triple-core version of the Falcon 9 that will have all 27 engines firing at launch.

The inaugural launch is scheduled for later this month. If and when it blasts off, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket to fly since the Saturn V of moon race fame.

VIDEO: Watch the launch and landing in the player above. Listen for the triple sonic boom at 1:28 into the video.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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