SpaceX is ready to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center, and Elon says he feels, 'quite giddy and hopeful' about the flight.
To the amusement of the masses, Falcon Heavy will liftoff Tuesday, February 6th at 1:30 PM ET, carrying a Tesla Roadster on-board as the payload. But the debut is more about the rocket than the payload. The new rocket boasts three Falcon 9 boosters, each sporting 9 Merlin engines, giving Falcon heavy a total of 27 engines and more than five million pounds of thrust. All that adds up to the world's most powerful operational rocket- if it works.
Regardless of its test flight status, the launch has generated a media buzz and crowds that haven't been seen at the Cape since the Shuttle program ended in 2011. Launching from the same pad, 39A, that took men to the Moon and sent astronauts into orbit aboard a fleet of iconic Space Shuttle orbiters, Heavy is a huge milestone for the private aerospace company.
After years long delays of Falcon Heavy, the road to this test flight moved at a rapid pace. SpaceX started teasing photos of Falcon Heavy at the Cape in late December, announced Musk’s Tesla Roadster would serve as payload, and then rolled the rocket out onto the launchpad on December 28th.
First static fire test of Falcon Heavy complete—one step closer to first test flight! pic.twitter.com/EZF4JOT8e4
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 24, 2018
Once the much anticipated hot fire test happened, and went well, Elon confirmed that the rocket would be ready for launch, ‘in a week or so’.
The goal for this test launch is to get off the ground in order to send a payload out of low Earth orbit. Critical launch data to improve the launch vehicle and eliminate design flaws will provide SpaceX with its measurement for success. Beyond that, several experimental milestones will provide even more information to the team.
Carried inside the payload fairing is Elon’s midnight cherry Tesla Roadster, complete with Starman in the driver’s seat and Bowie’s “Space Oddity” blaring through the speakers. While that might be seen as brash to some, it’s more exciting than the standard concrete or steel blocks generally loaded into place for test flights.
During a press call on Monday afternoon, Elon described the car’s harrowing journey once it escapes low Earth orbit:
It’s going to be doing this Grand Tour through the Van Allen belt and get whacked pretty hard. Then next, if it makes it through all that it will do quite a long burn for Mars injection.
From there the Roadster will head towards Mars, on a precessing Earth-Mars elliptical orbit, traveling at about 11 km per second in speed.
'We estimate it will be in that orbit for several hundred million years, maybe in excess of a billion years. At times it will come extremely close to Mars and there’s a tiny, tiny chance it will hit Mars.' said Musk. When asked if he worried at all about the state of his car, Elon responded, 'No, I’m not worried about the car. The car will be fine. Least of my concerns- I hope.'
Falcon Heavy is made to carry large payloads into low Earth orbit, geosynchronous transfer orbit, and further. With the Falcon 9 as a precursor, this larger rocket builds on flight proven strengths and reliability.
The main selling point to commercial customers though, is the low cost at which launch is possible. The re-usability of rocket parts means that a launch provider is able to offer significantly reduced prices when compared to a ride on a rocket composed of entirely new pieces manufactured for a single flight.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 6, 2018
SpaceX hopes to recover all three booster cores, at the very least two of the three, making Heavy as reusable as the Falcon 9 rocket. In fact, the test launch will use two recycled side cores, already test proven, from previous satellite and cargo missions.
With so much potential, it is no wonder SpaceX already has commercial customers awaiting the results of Heavy’s maiden flight.
For anyone at the Cape, Elon promises a good show.
Everyone else can watch online as SpaceX broadcasts a live video feed of pad 39A from Kennedy Space Center.
The SpaceX webcast will begin about 20 minutes prior to launch in order to explain what is about to happen and take viewers through some of the highlights. After that, be prepared to stay glued to the screen because SpaceX has a two and a half hour launch window.
If the rocket launches as intended, both side cores and the center core will attempt re-entry with two on land and one at sea. These burns back to Earth should be visible about seven and a half minutes following launch.
Until then, enjoy this animated version of the launch released by SpaceX.
Go Falcon Heavy!
Michael Galindo contributed to this story.
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