Elon Musk opens new era of space exploration
The most powerful rocket on Earth takes Tesla Roadster toward Mars
9 February, 2018
Elon Musk's red Tesla sports car which was launched into space during the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket.
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful launch system on Earth so far, roared into the sky last Tuesday afternoon from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida opening a new era of space exploration, news wires reported. The rocket's three reusable boosters lifted the vehicle, ultimately helping send Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster on a journey toward Mars orbit. “That was probably the most exciting thing I've ever seen. It taught me crazy things can come true,” Elon Musk said at a press conference after the launch.
With this debut, the Falcon Heavy becomes the most capable launch vehicle available. It is designed to deliver a maximum payload to low-Earth orbit of 64 tonnes. Such performance is slightly more than double that of the world's next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy - but at one third of the cost, according to Musk. He also pointed out that Falcon Heavy launch would be just the beginning of a flexible and powerful system that would closely match the power of NASA's historic Saturn V rocket.
For this experimental and uncertain mission, however, he decided on a much smaller and whimsical payload - 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.
The successful liftoff of Falcon Heavy, a system expected to cost about $90m per launch, could disrupt the launch industry as it is much cheaper than all the other launch systems. The key to Falcon Heavy's low cost lies in the re-usability of its 134-foot-tall boosters, each of which costs tens of millions of dollars to build. Other rocket boosters currently on the market are discarded after launch.
“It means we're able to offer heavy lift for not much more than the cost of a Falcon 9,” Musk told reporters, referring to SpaceX's $62m single-booster rocket. “If we're successful in this, it is game over for all other heavy-lift rockets.” The rocket's two side boosters landed safely on the ground after launch. SpaceX was not intending to reuse any of the boosters, though Musk said the company will find a place for the two that returned intact.
Having such a large and powerful rocket should open up some fascinating new possibilities for Musk and his SpaceX company. These include launching much bigger satellites for use by US intelligence and the military as well as large batches of satellites, such as those for Musk's proposed constellation of thousands of spacecraft to deliver broadband across the globe. Falcon Heavy could also launch 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. And last but not least, huge telescopes are to be folded to fit in the launcher next year.
That would appeal to NASA, which is gearing up to launch several planet, moon, and asteroid-bound spacecraft in the coming years. The space agency is also in a budget pinch and behind schedule in building its own super-heavy-lift rocket, called Space Launch System.