World's biggest rocket soars toward Mars after perfect launch (Update)

February 6, 2018

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy sits on Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of its expected launch
The world's most powerful rocket, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, blasted off Tuesday on its highly anticipated maiden test flight, carrying CEO Elon Musk's cherry red Tesla Roadster toward an orbit near Mars.

Screams and cheers erupted at mission control in Cape Canaveral, Florida as the massive rocket fired its 27 engines and rumbled into the blue sky over the same NASA launchpad that served as a base for the US missions to the Moon four decades ago.

"The mission went as well as one could have hoped," an ecstatic Musk told reporters after the launch, calling it "probably the most exciting thing I have seen literally ever."

"I had this image of a giant explosion on the pad with a wheel bouncing down the road with the Tesla logo landing somewhere," he said. "Fortunately that is not what happened."

Loaded with Musk's red Tesla and a mannequin in a spacesuit, the monster rocket's historic test voyage captured the world's imagination.

SpaceX's webcast showed the Tesla Roadster soaring into space, as David Bowie's "Space Oddity" played in the background—with the words "DON'T PANIC" visible on the dashboard, in an apparent nod to the sci-fi series the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

The Roadster was also outfitted with a data storage unit containing Isaac Asimov's science fiction book series, the Foundation Trilogy, and a plaque bearing the names of 6,000 SpaceX employees.

Musk posted a live video showing the "Starman" mannequin appearing to cruise, its gloved hand on the wheel, through the darkness of space, with the Earth's image reflected on the car's glossy red surface.

He tweeted late Tuesday night that the rocket's upper stage had made a successful final burn, sending the car and its mannequin passenger out of Earth's orbit, into an orbit around the Sun that brings it close to Mars.

After surviving a five-hour journey through the Van Allen Belt—a region of high radiation—the car now embarks on a journey through space that could last a billion years and take it as far as 250 million miles (400 million kilometers) from Earth, the same as a trip around the equator 10,000 times.

"Maybe it will be discovered by some future alien race," Musk told reporters. "What were these guys doing? Did they worship this car?" he mused.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy takes off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 6, 2018
'Giant step'

About two minutes into the flight, the two side boosters peeled away from the center core and made their way back toward Earth for an upright landing.

Both rockets landed side by side in unison on launchpads, live video images showed.

"New Olympic sport - Synchronized Landings!" wrote NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik on Twitter.

The third, center booster failed to land on an ocean platform—known as a droneship—as planned.

"It didn't have enough propellant," Musk said, adding that it plunged into the ocean about 100 meters (yards) away from its landing point.

"Apparently it hit the water at 300 miles an hour and took out two of the engines," he added.

Experts said the launch would likely catch the eye of the US space agency NASA, which may consider using the Falcon Heavy as a way to fast-track its plans to reach the Moon again for the first time since 1972.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot congratulated SpaceX and called it a "tremendous accomplishment."

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said "the successful launch of a new vehicle on its first flight is a significant accomplishment they can be very proud of."

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted: "What we're watching is @SpaceX leaving all other rocket companies in the dust. Congrats to everyone there!"

Description and facts on the Falcon Heavy rocket, with comparison of other major launch vehicles
Falcon Heavy specs

President Donald Trump also offered his congratulations, tweeting: "This achievement, along with @NASA's commercial and international partners, continues to show American ingenuity at its best!"

Musk replied: "Thank you on behalf of SpaceX. An exciting future lies ahead!"

The Falcon Heavy launched from the same NASA pad that was the base for the Apollo-era Moon missions of the 1960s and 1970s.

It is "the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two," SpaceX said.

That means it can carry twice the payload of United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy, at a far lower cost—about $90 million per launch compared to $350 million for its competitor.

But the Falcon Heavy is not the most powerful rocket ever—just the biggest in operation today.

The Saturn V rocket that propelled astronauts to the Moon could deliver more payload to orbit. The Soviet-era Energia, which flew twice in 1987 and 1988, was also more powerful.

The Falcon Heavy is essentially three smaller, Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, adding up to a total of 27 engines.

The 230-foot (70-meter) tall rocket is designed to carry nearly 141,000 pounds (64 metric tonnes) into orbit—more than the mass of a fully loaded 737 jetliner.

It was initially intended to restore the possibility of sending humans to the Moon or Mars, but those plans have shifted and now the Falcon Heavy is being considered mainly as a potential equipment carrier to these deep space destinations, Musk said Monday.

Instead, another rocket and spaceship combination being developed by SpaceX, nicknamed BFR—alternately known as "Big Fucking Rocket," or "Big Falcon Rocket"—would be the vehicle eventually certified for travelers.

Explore further: SpaceX's Elon Musk to launch his own car into deep space

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16 comments

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riplongley
5 / 5 (12) Feb 06, 2018
As a teen in the 60's the space program was everything (well almost). This is good.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (9) Feb 06, 2018
Was a great launch.... Felt like I was 10, again...;-)
marcush
5 / 5 (4) Feb 07, 2018
Very exciting to watch. The images from the car were perfect. I hope their progress continues to play out as planned. Personally, I'd be willing to pay around $100,000 to stay at a Moon resort. I think the market would be huge. Will I ever get the chance? Which big Hotel chain has the vision to get cracking on this?
marcush
5 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2018
Rather than compete with Elon (e.g. Blue Origin, Virgin galactic etc), these companies should leverage Space X for their low cost launch capability to invest in actually building stuff up there.

Thorium Boy
1 / 5 (7) Feb 07, 2018
Stop worshiping this egomaniacal would-be Nazi. The rocket is nothing compared to the Saturn V or the Shuttle. We are 50 years behind where we should be because of primative chemical rockets.
Osiris1
not rated yet Feb 07, 2018
Russians feeling sad. They tried long ago with a similar rocket called the 'N-1' N-1 had many engines as well, but did NOT have the enabling technology in the form of computerized control and monitoring systems that we have today, so they failed.
ShotmanMaslo
5 / 5 (4) Feb 07, 2018
The rocket is nothing compared to the Saturn V or the Shuttle. .


It is much better than both of those when it comes to $$ per ton to orbit. Which is very important under current budgets. Apollo days of unlimited funds aint coming back anytime soon.
Age-of-idiots
Feb 07, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
MaxwellSmith
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2018
Nice to see we have Russian trolls on a physics website. They all know the Elon is about to make our reliance on their rocket technology obsolete. He is the visionary of our generation. It shows that a single, tenacious person can outperform an entire committee, organization or government.
JRi
not rated yet Feb 07, 2018
"The mission went as well as one could have hoped,"
"The third, center booster failed to land on an ocean platform—known as a droneship—as planned."

I see some discrepancy with the sentences above, despite how much I enjoyed watching the launch.
savvys84
not rated yet Feb 12, 2018
why are they using chemical rockets when the lunar module didnt use one when blasting off the moon?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2018
Zephyr when you post a quote from a bullshit clickbait news article you should identify it as such. Nothing secret about that little disk.

"It didn't have enough propellant," Musk said, adding that it plunged into the ocean about 100 meters (yards) away from its landing point."

-I wonder if this is a design flaw or if they just limited the amount of fuel for some reason.
why are they using chemical rockets when the lunar module didnt use one when blasting off the moon?
"for use in the Apollo Lunar Module Descent Stage. It used Aerozine 50 fuel and N2O4 oxidizer. This engine used a pintle injector, a design also used later in the SpaceX Merlin engine"

-These sure sound like chemicals to me -?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2018
Nice to see we have Russian trolls on a physics website. They all know the Elon is about to make our reliance on their rocket technology obsolete
-Actually It's bezos who will be doing this.

"But the New Glenn may not be the only rocket sporting the BE-4 engine in the future. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) also plans to use the BE-4 in a new rocket the company is building called the Vulcan. The Vulcan will be a successor to the Atlas V rocket, which has come under fire in recent years for using Russian-made RD-180 engines."
434a
5 / 5 (4) Feb 12, 2018
why are they using chemical rockets when the lunar module didnt use one when blasting off the moon?


https://www.space...hic.html

The lunar lander had in fact two chemical rockets, a descent engine for landing and an ascent engine for taking off.

https://en.wikipe...n_System

The Ascent Propulsion System (APS) or LMAE (Lunar Module Ascent Engine) is a fixed thrust hypergolic rocket engine developed by Bell Aerosystems for use in the Apollo Lunar Module Ascent Stage. It used Aerozine 50 fuel, and N
2O
4 oxidizer. Rocketdyne provided the injector system, at the request of NASA, when Bell could not solve combustion instability problems.[1]


antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2018
"The mission went as well as one could have hoped,"
"The third, center booster failed to land on an ocean platform—known as a droneship—as planned."

I see some discrepancy with the sentences above, despite how much I enjoyed watching the launch.

Well, Musk said he'd count it as a success if the thing didn't blow up.
savvys84
not rated yet Feb 13, 2018
otto i dont see any propellent discharge from the lunar module in the videos on the net and the lander ascends looks like with a constant velocity from the get go suggesting something other than a conventional rocket

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