SpaceX has successfully launched its new Falcon Heavy spacecraft, making it the world’s most powerful rocket.
Tuesday’s launch took place at NASA’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in the US state of Florida, the spot also used for the Apollo 11 moon mission and several space shuttle launches.
The launch was delayed by several hours because of high winds in the upper atmosphere.
Falcon Heavy carried a car – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster – as a mock payload, along with a mannequin in a spacesuit and a playlist consisting of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” into the orbit of Mars.
Minutes after take-off, the two outer boosters landed at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
A third booster was designated to land on a floating barge in the middle of the ocean, although it is unclear if that landing succeeded as well.
Falcon Heavy is the largest rocket since NASA’s Saturn V booster, which was used for the Moon missions in the 1970s.
“Falcon Heavy can launch about 64 tonnes into low Earth orbit, now that’s alost a factor three more than the current running biggest launch vehicle, Delta IV Heavy,” astrophysicist David Clements from Imperial College said.
“The only launch vehicle that has ever been more powerful is the Saturn V which launched the Apollo missions to the Moon.”
To put things in perspective, Clements said, 64 tonnes is “like putting a fully-loaded 737 aircraft, including passengers, crew and luggage, into orbit around Earth – that’s what Falcon Heavy can do.”
Cherry red Tesla
SpaceX was the first company to successfully launch and land a booster rocket – the Falcon 9 – that was sent into space.
That rocket is now being used to bring satellites into orbit and resupply the International Space Station.
The landing capability of Falcon 9 allows for quick reuse of the boosters, which has led to lower costs and less time between launches.
However, with its more powerful rockets, Falcon Heavy is expected to be a first step to future missions to the Moon and even Mars.
“About 2.5 hours to T-0 for Falcon Heavy. Watch sim for highlight reel of what we hope happens. Car actually takes 6 months to cover 200M+ miles to Mars”, Musk, who is also the CEO of electric car company Tesla, said on Twitter earlier on Tuesday.
“[The] payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. [The] destination is Mars orbit. [It] will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent,” he added.
“The crucial thing about Falcon Heavy and private space companies like SpaceX and others like Blue Origin is that they’re driving down launch costs”, Clements said.