Published: Wed, February 07, 2018
Markets | By Noel Gibbs

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket launches on first test flight

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket launches on first test flight

Elon Musk's SpaceX launched its new Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time Tuesday, a major milestone in the company's quest to grow its customer base and fund its vision of making life multiplanetary. Not only will the new rocket be able to shuttle loads up to 140,000 pounds into space, it's relatively cheap, costing about $90 million per launch.

The reason Falcon Heavy is so large is because Musk and SpaceX have plans to do more than launch satellites and old cars.

Falcon Heavy would also be able to lift twice as much as the Delta IV Heavy, now the strongest rocket, but at least one-third cheaper to make at $90 million. We might see the Heavy, with Elon Musk's own Tesla Roadster in its payload bay, sail towards the heavens in a flawless dance of engineering and physics... or we might see a giant explosion. SpaceX revealed last weekend that a mannequin wearing the company's new spacesuit would ride in the driver's seat of the electric sports auto.

About two and a half minutes after launch, the two side boosters on the rocket detached and headed back to Earth.

Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969
Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969

Flight profile of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. During liftoff, the 27 Merlin 1D engines of the Falcon Heavy's three Falcon 9 core boosters generated 5,548,500 lb of thrust as they gulped down supercooled liquid oxygen and kerosene. Finally, a thruster has to fire to put the auto on the right orbital course.

In the driver's seat of the Roadster is a mannequin, named "Starman" after the 1972 David Bowie song, who is dressed in one of the spacesuits that will be worn by the passengers and crew on SpaceX's manned dragon missions. Musk has said the central core needed "to be buffed up a lot" but the Falcon 9 cores on each side "use most of the same airframe". "It's really the production rate of the center core". When a Falcon 9 rocket blew up on the launch pad in 2016, it put LC-39A out of commission for almost a year.

SpaceX has shaken up the rocket industry by becoming the first company to successfully reuse rocket boosters in order to bring down the cost of spaceflight.

If it weathers all this, the Roadster will reach the vicinity of Mars in six months, Musk said. But hopefully, if something goes wrong, it goes wrong far into the mission so we at least learn as much as possible along the way, said Musk at Kennedy Space Center on the eve of the flight. We don't want to set expectations of perfection by any means. "I would consider it a win if it just clears the pad". While the company has had a long string of successful launches since a tumultuous 2016, a Falcon Heavy malfunction could do considerable damage.

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The three-engine rocket - carrying a Tesla electric auto inside - will take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral at 3:45 p.m., after winds prompted a series of short delays earlier in the day. SpaceX has landed 21 of its Falcon 9 boosters so far.

Why is the Falcon Heavy launching important?

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called that "extremely boring".

But first it has to get off the ground.

"The only launch vehicle that has ever been more powerful is the Saturn V which launched the Apollo missions to the Moon".

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As far as attention-grabbing auto launches go, this was the most literal, and arguably the most spectacular.

"There's so much that could go wrong", he told reporters on Monday.

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