Falcon Heavy successfully lifted off yesterday from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, with the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons — a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel. It is slightly more than double that of the world’s next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy.
Falcon Heavy’s first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit.
Three cores make up the first stage of Falcon Heavy. The side cores, or boosters, are connected to the center core at its base and at the vehicle’s interstage. With a total of 27 Merlin engines, Falcon Heavy’s three cores are capable of generating more than 5 million pounds of thrust. For this test flight, Falcon Heavy’s two side cores are both flight-proven. One launched the Thaicom 8 satellite in May 2016 and the other supported the CRS-9 mission in July 2016.
SpaceX successfully landed two side boosters of Falcon Heavy’s first stage core. The center booster was supposed to land on a floating platform in the Atlantic (droneship) but crashed into the water at some 500 km/h because some of the engines failed to ignite for the final landing burn.
The payload for Falcon Heavy’s demonstration mission is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster. The spacecraft journeyed through Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt and after some seven hours, Mr. Musk announced that a third and final burn had put his sports car on an elliptical orbit away from Earth and around the sun that extends beyond Mars’s orbit. The live stream is available directly from the Roadster with Starman in the seat.
It’s important to remember that this mission is a test flight. It will gather critical data throughout the mission. If proven successful it will open new possibilities for launching bigger satellites, more advanced robots to Mars and other planets, bigger telescopes… But more importantly, the concept of re-usable boosters will dramatically lower the cost of launching cargo and humans into space.