Falcon Heavy Launched. Boosters Landed. Bowie playing Starman. Tesla Roadster begins its billion year journey.
For those who’ve followed the meteoric rise of SpaceX, from the experiments of an intrepid billionaire to a reliable and groundbreaking company that launches rockets into space on a regular basis, the 6th of February 2017 is a date to remember. Elon Musk and SpaceX successfully launched its much heralded rocket, the Falcon Heavy, into space and on its journey around the sun. Whilst slightly delayed, the mission was a complete success and absolutely everything that could go right went right from start to finish.
For up to date analysis, check out SpaceX Twitter feed for all the info:
What is the Falcon Heavy?
The Falcon Heavy is one of the most powerful rockets ever launched. Only the Saturn V which took man to the Moon could take more into space. The space shuttle had more thrust at launch than the Falcon Heavy, but had a lower payload capacity.
The design is based on the tried and tested Falcon 9 rockets that SpaceX have been launching and reusing, utilizing 2 of the normal rockets strapped to a strengthened core. The boosters were designed to release when the rocket made Low Earth Orbit, which they successfully did. Musk was eager to point out before the launch that any number of things could have gone wrong and we should not pin our hopes on a successful mission. We don’t often hear this, but Musk underestimated himself.
Musk described the dangers of the launch beforehand:
“Going through the sound barrier, you get supersonic shockwaves. You could have some shockwave impingement, or where two shockwaves interact and amplify the effect, that could cause a failure as it goes transonic. Then around Max-Q, which is maximum dynamic air pressure — that is when the force on the rocket is the greatest — and that’s possibly where it could fail as well. We’re worried about ice potentially falling off the upper stage onto the nose cones of the side boosters.”
“That would be like a cannon ball coming through the nose cone. And then the separation system has not been tested in flight. We have tested everything that we could think of for the separation of those side boosters on the ground, but this is the first time it has to operate in flight.”
Elon Musk, being an eccentric billionaire, wasn’t content to launch a payload into space on a groundbreaking new rocket. Musk decided that the payload would be his first ever Tesla, complete with mannequin passenger in a spacesuit, with a plaque engraved with all his employees names and oh yes, David Bowie’s Starman playing on repeat. Musk’s Tesla Roadster will be the first car that was built to be driven on Earth to be launched into space. It will orbit the sun and is expected to stay in space for millions of years, possibly billions.
What does it mean for the future of space travel?
NASA are now going to be scratching their heads and wondering whether they should keep going with their own program, the SLS. The SLS, or Space Launch System, was supposed to be the next rocket system designed to take man to the Moon, Mars and beyond. But, the SLS launches will be in excess of a billion dollars a launch, whilst Elon’s Falcon Heavy costs only 90 million, and is now flight proven.
Time will tell what the top dogs at NASA and in the government decide, but for now, Elon Musk can celebrate another huge success in his mission to make humanity a multiplanetary species.