SpaceX has ironed out all the wrinkles with its Falcon 9 launches, but it’s about to try something new and potentially crazy. In a few weeks, SpaceX is expected to launch its first Falcon Heavy rocket. This vehicle will be the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two, but SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been clear that the Falcon Heavy could very well explode instead of blast into space. Since the first Falcon Heavy will soon be in space or in pieces, the company has done a neat little drone flyby to commemorate the first launch attempt.
The video, posted on SpaceX’s official Instagram account, shows the rocket upright on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. This is the same facility that NASA used to launch all the Saturn V Apollo rockets. SpaceX leased the space from NASA several years ago. It’s only fitting seeing as the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V.
As the drone flies toward the Falcon Heavy, you can see the craft locked into its test firing pad. Before the final liftoff, SpaceX plans to do a static fire test where the rocket is tethered to the ground while the engines are ignited. As SpaceX has pointed out, getting all 27 Merlin engines to ignite in unison is vital to the success of the launch.
You can also see the structural components holding the trio of boosters together in the new video. The left and right boosters are standard Falcon 9 rockets, but the center unit has been reinforced where the side boosters attach. SpaceX will attempt to land all three first stage boosters during the launch, but the higher speed of the Falcon Heavy could make that vastly more challenging than landing a regular Falcon 9.
Atop the center booster is the second stage with its single Merlin Vacuum engine. Inside that cone-shaped faring rests Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster. Yes, SpaceX really is using a car as dead weight for this launch. Since there’s a chance the first launch will end catastrophically, SpaceX didn’t want to use anything important as the payload.
Musk has been a little vague about the rocket’s destination, perhaps intentionally. He’s said the car will be in a “billion-year elliptic Mars orbit,” but that probably does not mean it will actually orbit Mars. We’re still several months away from the ideal Mars transfer window, and the second stage isn’t designed to insert the payload into orbit of another planet (you’d need a separate rocket package for the car payload). What SpaceX is probably planning is an Earth-Mars elliptical orbit around the sun, sometimes called a Hohmann transfer orbit. This orbit will cross the orbit of Mars, so the car will get close to the red planet without remaining in orbit.
SpaceX has yet to finalize a date for the launch, but we’re still expecting it later this month. Well, assuming it doesn’t blow up during the static test.
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