SpaceX preps Falcon Heavy for debut launch, loads cargo hold with Musk’s Tesla Roadster
UPDATE 07/02: The launch proved successful with the Falcon Heavy's two side boosters separating from the central rocket and landing back on Earth in unison (see video). However, the central booster rocket, which SpaceX had predicted was less likely to be salvaged, slammed into the Atlantic at about 483kph, showering the deck of the nearby drone landing vessel and destroying two of the ship's thrusters.
SpaceX’s most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, will undergo its first launch tomorrow carrying a Tesla Roadster owned by founder Elon Musk.
The Falcon Heavy is a reusable rocket akin to the company’s primary launch vehicle Falcon 9, only designed to carry a much larger payload into space.
It has had a tortured development, with an initial test launch planned for late 2013 repeatedly delayed in order to overcome various design challenges.
In July last year Musk said: “It actually ended up being way harder to do Falcon Heavy than we thought. Really way, way more difficult than we originally thought. We were pretty naïve about that.”
It consists of a strengthened Falcon 9 rocket core with two additional Falcon 9 first stages as strap-on boosters. This increases the low Earth orbit maximum payload to 63,800 kilograms compared to 22,800 kilograms for a Falcon 9 full thrust.
Falcon Heavy was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and would enable crewed missions to the Moon or Mars.
The Roadster car - from one of Musk’s other companies, Tesla - is serving as a mock payload for the highly anticipated flight.
If the launch succeeds, the Falcon Heavy will rank as the most powerful rocket in operation today and would give SpaceX a leg up on rival commercial rocket companies seeking major contracts with Nasa, the US military, satellite companies and even paying space tourists.
Musk admitted as recently as last year that the debut flight is far from being a sure-fire success at this stage. “There’s a real good chance the vehicle won’t make it to orbit,” he said. “I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest.”
The spacecraft is set for liftoff from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida - the same pad used by the Saturn 5 that carried Apollo 11’s three-man crew on their historic 1969 mission culminating in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first human steps on the lunar surface.
The ‘passenger’ riding atop the Falcon Heavy will be setting a more whimsical record as the first car sent into solar orbit.
“I love the thought of a car driving apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” the billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX founder said in a Twitter post last month.
In December 2017, SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo ship and a Falcon 9 booster rocket that, for the first time, had both been used in previous missions and recovered after landing back on Earth intact.