History was made on Tuesday when SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched to infinity and beyond. Well… not really, but with 27 engines the rocket has a thrust able to generate 5 million pounds which is equivalent to 18 Boeing 747 planes. The rocket will be able to lift a payload of about 64 tons into orbit. That payload is twice as much as the Delta IV Heavy and will have a third of the cost, according to SpaceX. The payload on the Falcon Heavy now consists of a Tesla Roadster and a dummy pilot named ‘Starman’.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said that the challenges encountered while developing the rocket meant chances of a successful launch were only 50-50. The launch took place at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After the launch, two side boosters landed successfully at Cape Canaveral and a third was set to land on a floating pad in the Atlantic. SpaceX has been committed to re-using boosters to reduce the cost of spaceflight, although this launch was their first using three boosters.
When the second stage of Falcon Heavy launched, it put it on an elliptical orbit around the sun, extending out as far as Mars. Musk stated that although it is very unlikely for the rocket to hit the red planet, there is an “extremely tiny” chance it could crash into the planet.
Falcon Heavy is scheduled later this year to launch a communications satellite for a Saudi Arabian satellite operator, Arabsat. Around June, Heavy is also scheduled to launch a test payload for the U.S. Air Force. This test payload allows the U.S. Air Force to determine if the Falcon Heavy is capable of launching national security payloads.
NASA is being encouraged by some experts in spaceflight to use private rockets such as the Falcon Heavy, instead of a more costly and gigantic rocket like the “Space Launch System” that is being developed for future trips to the moon.