16 stunning photos from the early-morning launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket

Grace Hauck and Emre Kelly
16 stunning photos from the early-morning launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center early Tuesday in the program's most challenging mission to date.

The rocket's main engines illuminated the sky at 2:30 a.m. The three-and-a-half hour Department of Defense mission featured 24 spacecraft deployments, three orbit insertions and 20 individual separation events.

There was one hiccup: The rocket's center core failed to land on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship stationed hundreds of miles offshore, as planned. The core was lost as it approached the ship.

Science educator Bill Nye attended the launch. Nye acts as CEO of an organization aiming to use photons from the sun as a way to propel spacecraft.

Here are 16 shots that capture the launch.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from iPad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Monday, June 24, 2019. The rocket is carrying 24 satellites for the DoD and NASA.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
The twin boosters from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy come in for landing at LX-1 Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The Falcon Heavy rocket carried multiple payloads into orbit for the DoD and NASA.
People on the beach near Cherie Down Park in Cape Canaveral watch the boosters land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station approximately eight minutes after launch.
The launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launched from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. With 24 satellites onboard the heavy-lift rocket, the Falcon Heavy will generate four separate burns during its second stage and deploy the dozens of spacecraft into three separate orbits, making this one of SpaceX's most challenging launches. Two of the boosters landed back at the lading zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station but the center core booster failed to land on the drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Approximate 518 second time exposure off the launch and landing viewed from Washington Ave. in Cape Canaveral.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
The twin boosters from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy come in for landing at LX-1 Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The Falcon Heavy rocket carried multiple payloads into orbit for the DoD and NASA.
The boosters separate from SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket after liftoff from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.
The plume of exhaust from the Falcon Heavy center core and boosters lights up the sky after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The rocket is carrying multiple payloads for the DoD and NASA.

Follow Emre Kelly and Grace Hauck on Twitter @EmreKelly and @grace_hauck.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 16 stunning photos from the early-morning launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket