SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket launched successfully on Tuesday, making history as the world's most powerful rocket and putting a provierbial feather in Elon Musk's cap.
Containing 27 engines, the rocket has a thrust able to generate more than 5 million pounds, akin to the equivalent of 18 Boeing 747 aircraft. It will be able to lift a payload of more than 64 tons (141,000 pounds) into orbit, twice as much as the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost, according to SpaceX. The payload the Falcon Heavy is carrying is a Tesla Roadster and a dummy pilot, codenamed Starman, playing the David Bowie song of the same name.
The flight was originally scheduled for 1:30 pm EST, but was pushed back to 3:45 pm EST due to wind shear. It fired from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX said that when the rocket achieves lift off, "it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two." The company added that "Falcon Heavy’s side cores are flight-proven—both previously supported independent Falcon 9 missions in 2016."
The second stage of Heavy fired three times and put it on an elliptical orbit around the Sun that extends out as far as Mars. There is an "extremely tiny" chance it could crash into the Red Planet, Musk said in comments obtained by The New York Times, but that is unlikely to happen.
"The test launch of the Falcon Heavy is a spectacular demonstration of the comeback of Florida’s Space Coast and of the U.S. commercial launch sector, which is succeeding in a big way.," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the Senate floor, discussing the launch. “That’s good news for the civil space program. It's good news for national security. It's good news for employment in the U.S. and it's great news for jobs and the economy."
Nelson is the top Democrat of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the nation’s space program.
The successful launch marks the beginning of a very busy schedule for the space vehicle. Later this year, it is scheduled to launch a communications satellite for a Saudi Arabian satellite operator, Arabsat. It is also scheduled to launch a test payload for the U.S. Air Force as soon as June, allowing the branch of the U.S. military to determine whether the Falcon Heavy is capable of launching national security payloads.
The launch spacecraft's two side boosters successfully landed at Cape Canaveral. However, the central core did not stick the landing on a floating drone ship 300 miles off the Florida coast. Musk said late Tuesday the booster hit the water at 300 miles per hour because it could relight only one of the three engines needed to land.
SpaceX is committed to a strategy of re-using rocket boosters to lower the cost of spaceflight, although this was its first attempt to land three boosters in the same launch.
Shortly after launch Elon Musk tweeted remarkable video footage of the Tesla Roadster and Starman in space.
"View from SpaceX Launch Control. Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth," he wrote.
"This achievement, along with @NASA’s commercial and international partners, continues to show American ingenuity at its best!" President Trump tweeted Thursday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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