SpaceX launches world's most powerful rocket, Tesla overshoots orbit


“Everything that you could want in a test flight we got here.”

Those were the words of an ebullient John Insprucker, SpaceX principal integration engineer, moments after Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at about 3:45 p.m. EST on Tuesday. 

TicToc by Bloomberg on Twitter

In a historic launch, SpaceX successfully sends its powerful #FalconHeavy rocket into space for the first time ever #tictocnews https://t.co/dh3aSBNFmh

Within minutes of liftoff, the Falcon Heavy reached supersonic speed, creating an audible cracking sound that could be heard by scores of cheering onlookers scattered roughly a mile from the launch pad.

The successful launch included a dramatic landing that came minutes later when two Falcon Heavy rocket boosters returned to earth with a controlled burn, touching down simultaneously on pre-arranged targets in Florida.

However, the central booster missed the drone ship where it was supposed to land by 300 feet and crashed into the sea at 300mph (TheVerge). Musk said the crash “was enough to take out two [of the drone ship’s] thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel.” The central booster crashed because only one of its three engines necessary to land ignited, according to The Verge.

In addition to designing a rocket that can reach record-level speeds, SpaceX is attempting to make space travel more affordable – a feat that requires reusing rockets instead of discarding them in space. (Space.com)

“It’s difficult to overstate what SpaceX has just accomplished: it’s successfully introduced a new heavy rocket to the world,” reported the Guardian. “What’s more, just a few years ago the notion of re-landing reusable rockets seemed like a pipe dream, and yet SpaceX has made it routine.”

MSNBC on Twitter

BREAKING: SpaceX successfully lands two Falcon Heavy rocket boosters simulataneously. TUNE IN to MSNBC for more. https://t.co/zMoUXxy0uk

Musk admitted before the launch that the rocket’s chances of a successful launch were about 50-50 (The Guardian). “I’ll consider it a win if it just clears the pad and doesn’t blow the pad to smithereens,” Musk said before Tuesday’s launch.

Therefore, the rocket was carrying a dummy payload – Musk’s old cherry-red Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin dubbed “Starman” in the driver’s seat, wearing one of SpaceX’s spacesuits.

Cameras attached to the vehicle provided the “epic views” promised by Musk. David Bowie’s Space Oddity  played on the car’s sound system and the glove box contains a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Space.com) Moments into the SpaceX live-stream of the launch, Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” blared at viewers, including the lyrics, “Look at those cavemen go.”

SpaceX streams video of Tesla Roadster in orbit (Copyright 2018 Thomson Reuters; Source: SPACEX)
SpaceX streams video of Tesla Roadster in orbit (Copyright 2018 Thomson Reuters; Source: SPACEX)

The car was expected to enter an elliptical orbit around the sun, taking it out to the distance of Mars’s orbit, but it overshot that trajectory, which has put it on course for a new orbit extending into the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Elon Musk on Twitter

Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt.

 

The Falcon Heavy launcher’s engines are said to be capable of generating double the thrust of the world’s current most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, built by U.S. rival United Launch Alliance.

The launch opens new opportunities, such as taking robots to other planets, and putting much larger satellites into higher orbits in space.

The aim is that Musk’s next project – the Big Falcon Rocket (Financial Times) – will be capable of landing on Mars.

Elon Musk on Twitter

Falcon Heavy sends a car to Mars https://t.co/Y7uBtU6Mt2

The liftoff was live-streamed on SpaceX’s website.

Space X rocket Taken on December 28, 2017 (Public Domain)
Space X rocket Taken on December 28, 2017 (Public Domain)

The Falcon Heavy rocket is estimated to cost $90 million per flight – less than one tenth of the expected price of NASA’s Space Launch System.

SpaceX has competition from other private companies, such as Blue Origin (the space company launched by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos), which is aiming to launch its New Glenn rocket in 2020, and from Boeing, which is developing NASA’s Space Launch System.

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