Falcon Heavy Blasts Off!
US entrepreneur Elon Musk has launched his new rocket, the Falcon Heavy, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
With the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb)—a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel–Falcon Heavy is the most powerful development since the shuttle vehicle and can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost. With this debut, the Falcon Heavy becomes the most capable launch vehicle available.
This is an experimental and uncertain mission, so Elon Musk decided on a much smaller payload than originally intended- his old cherry-red Tesla sports car. A space-suited mannequin was strapped in the driver’s seat, and the radio set to play a David Bowie soundtrack on a loop.The Tesla and its passenger have been despatched into an elliptical orbit around the Sun that reaches out as far as the Planet Mars.
Having such a powerful rocket should open up some fascinating new possibilities for Mr Musk and his SpaceX company. These include launching:
- Much bigger satellites for use by US intelligence and the military. The scale of these satellites is limited by current rocket performance.
- Large batches of satellites, such as those for Mr Musk’s proposed constellation of thousands of spacecraft to deliver broadband across the globe.
- Bigger, more capable robots to go to the surface of Mars, or to visit the outer planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, and their moons.
- Huge telescopes. Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is having to be folded origami-like to fit in its launcher next year.
Despite all these benefits however, Elon Musk believes it’s the low-cost aspect that will be a game-changer when allied to the new performance:
“It’ll be like trying to sell an aircraft where one aircraft company has a reusable aircraft and all the other companies had aircraft that were single-use where you would parachute out at your destination and the plane would crash-land randomly somewhere. Crazy as that sounds – that’s how the rocket business works.”