San Francisco: SpaceX launched its new Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time, a major milestone in the company’s quest to grow its customer base and fund Elon Musk’s vision of making life multiplanetary.
With hordes of fans gathered along the Florida space coast and millions watching on SpaceX’s webcast, the new rocket rumbled aloft shortly after 3:45 pm local time Tuesday. It cleared the launch pad without blowing up—a feat Musk had said would be enough to deem the mission a win—and continued on to deliver the chief executive officer’s cherry red Tesla Roadster toward an Earth-Mars elliptical orbit around the sun.
Falcon Heavy is a large, reusable launch vehicle that will allow closely held SpaceX to bid on heavier payloads than it can with its Falcon 9, such as big commercial satellites and national security missions. The strides Musk has made rendering Falcon 9 launches more routine—SpaceX pulled off 18 last year—has helped make it one of the word’s most richly valued private companies.
Following the launch, SpaceX accomplished a feat never before seen in space history, re-landing multiple rocket cores back on earth. Two touched down on land in tandem, and the plan for the third was for it to settle back on an unmanned drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The video feed on the drone ship cut out before the company could confirm its fate.
“A private company just outperformed every government on earth,” said Greg Autry, a professor at the University of Southern California and a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) White House liaison. “This is bigger than anything Russia or China is doing. No one else is even close.”
Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX already has paying customers committed to flying with Falcon Heavy, including commercial satellite operators Arabsat, Inmarsat and Viasat, according to its launch manifest. The US Air Force also chose Falcon Heavy for its STP-2, or Space Test Program 2, mission, though the vehicle still needs to go through certification.
Musk outfitted his Roadster with cameras to capture views of the car as it floated through space. Behind the wheel was “Starman,” a dummy clad in the same suit that astronauts will wear during SpaceX’s Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station.
A nearly indestructible disk carrying a digital copy of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction book series, Foundation, is also on board, plus a plaque engraved with the names of SpaceX’s 6,000 employees.
The successful test flight means that SpaceX can move forward with missions for paying customers. Musk said Monday the first one should take place within three to six months. livemint