SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Test Launch A Resounding Success
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SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Test Launch A Resounding Success

It's also the greatest car commercial of all time.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Test Launch A Resounding Success
SpaceX YouTube

So we had a pretty significant moment for space travel last week and I felt a recap is in order.

On February 6, SpaceX, a private spaceflight company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, completed a successful test launch of their new rocket, the Falcon Heavy. Announced to the public in 2011, SpaceX initially hoped to perform a test launch of the vehicle in 2013. However, two issues with the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, along with unexpected engineering challenges related to combining three Falcon 9 boosters in one vehicle delayed the test flight by about five years.

Due to its successful launch, the Falcon Heavy is now the most powerful rocket in the world currently in use (in terms of payload weight that can be carried to low Earth orbit) by a factor of over two, as it can carry 140,700 pounds into this type of orbit. “Low Earth orbit” is defined as Earth orbit with an altitude of fewer than 1,200 miles. This record was previously held by United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, which could carry up to 63,470 pounds to LEO. The record for the most powerful rocket of all time goes to the Saturn V, with an LEO payload cap of 310,000 pounds.

The launch took place at 3:45 p.m. EST from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A, in clear weather. The flight carried a rather peculiar cargo; instead of a typical “boilerplate,” or model, version of a spacecraft or satellite, it carried Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster. In the driver’s seat of the Roadster sits “Starman,” a mannequin clad in SpaceX’s company made spacesuit, posed to look like he is driving the car. Though sound doesn't propagate in space, it is reported that the car's sound system plays Space Oddity by David Bowie on a loop. The car was intended to be put into a Sun-centered orbit that intersects the orbit of Mars.

The car also contains several other Easter eggs, including a Hot Wheels version of the Roadster (complete with a miniature “Starman”) mounted to the dashboard, several references to Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy (a copy of the book in the glovebox, a towel, and a sign on the dashboard reading “Don’t Panic!”), a plaque with the names of SpaceX employees who worked on the Falcon Heavy project inscribed on it, and a message on one of the vehicle’s circuit boards that reads “Made on Earth by humans.”

As SpaceX prides themselves on utilizing reused boosters, another objective of the launch was to recover all three of the boosters used. At 7 minutes and 58 seconds after launch, the two side boosters completed a spectacular tandem landing at Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Kennedy Space Center, coming to rest at almost the exact same time. The core booster, however, suffered a malfunction when it ran out of igniter fluid, causing two of its three engines to fail to light during its landing burn. This caused the core to crash in the Pacific Ocean about 100 meters away from where it was supposed to land on of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You. The crash damaged two of the drone ship’s engines.

Meanwhile, in space, the fairing containing the Roadster deployed successfully, leading to spectacular views of the car as it floated around Earth. SpaceX live-streamed the first several hours of the car’s journey with cameras mounted at various spots in the vehicle, providing some dazzling views of the Earth from the strange and surreal perspective of an automobile. One image of this can be seen above, as the cover image for this article.

A second burn of the engines took the car into an orbit that overshoots but still intersects the orbit of Mars. The Roadster will reach its farthest point in orbit from the Sun in the asteroid belt, near the orbit of dwarf planet Ceres, and its closest point in orbit to the Sun when it intersects Earth’s orbit. The Roadster will not enter an orbit around Mars as this was not the intent of the mission; it also lacks the necessary hardware to do this.

The Falcon Heavy was designed to carry humans to other celestial bodies, like the Moon or Mars. That said, there are no crewed missions currently planned and upcoming missions will use the craft to carry large satellites.

Overall, a very successful launch. Two out of three boosters recovered, and what can only be described as the single greatest car commercial of all time. Best of luck to SpaceX in their future endeavors.

A recording of the full launch can be viewed here:

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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