SpaceX Successfully Launches Falcon Heavy Rocket, Sends Car Into Space [Update]

SpaceX Successfully Launches Falcon Heavy Rocket, Sends Car Into Space [Update]

The Falcon Heavy hype has been building for years, reaching all the way back to CEO Elon Musk’s announcement of the rocket in 2011. After years of development and a few last minute delays, the Falcon Heavy is operational. SpaceX successfully launched the rocket from Cape Canaveral today, Feb. 6, 2018. On board the rocket is Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster, which makes it the first car in space.

SpaceX completed a static fire test last month, which ensured that all 27 Merlin rocket engines on the vehicle could ignite simultaneously. That cleared the way for today’s test, but Musk has been carefully controlling expectations. He recently gave the launch a 50-50 chance of success, but he previously said just clearing the tower would be a success in his eyes. The Falcon Heavy far exceeded that standard, though.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Falcon Heavy Rocket, Sends Car Into Space [Update]

The launch seems to have gone amazingly well. The Falcon Heavy is composed of two side booster Falcon 9 rockets, plus a center core Falcon 9 that has been modified to support the added weight of the side boosters. Several minutes after liftoff, the side boosters throttled down and disconnected from the center core. They performed three burns to return to the landing zone and set down at LZ-1 and LZ-2 near launch complex 39-A where the rocket started out. Seeing these boosters come down and land within seconds of each other is jaw-dropping.

The center core continued to push the second stage into space, then it too detached and headed back down. It was too high and going too fast to return to Cape Canaveral, so the plan was to land it on one of SpaceX’s drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean. The feed on the drone ship disappeared as the core approached due to vibrations, and SpaceX hasn’t said what happened yet. Landing this booster was always going to be more difficult because of the higher speed. The delay makes us suspect it crashed into the drone ship. While not ideal, this doesn’t detract from the incredible success of the launch. We’ll update when SpaceX provides more info on the fate of the center core.

A Tesla in space.
A Tesla in space.

The second stage successfully took the “payload” into low Earth orbit. The next step is to begin the burn that will take it into an elliptical heliocentric orbit. The second stage will get near Mars, but will not actually orbit of the red planet. Atop the rocket is Musk’s Tesla Roadster with a mannequin wearing one of SpaceX’s newly designed spacesuits. The car is exposed to space (the faring covering the car was jettisoned shortly after liftoff), allowing for some amazing shots. It’ll probably be a really great Tesla commercial, too.

This successful launch cements SpaceX as the leading private space firm in the world. Even if it lost one booster, it’s the only company with a rocket that can take a car to Mars.

Here’s a live view of the car in space:

Update: Elon Musk says the center core did indeed crash. Only one of its engines reignited for the landing burn, so it missed the drone ship entirely. Still, two out of three isn’t bad when you launch the most powerful rocket in the world.

Elon Musk confirms: center core missed the drone ship. Wasn’t able to relight all three engines, and the one that did relight wasn’t enough to slow it down enough.

— Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer) February 7, 2018

Continue reading

NASA Created a Collection of Spooky Space Sounds for Halloween
NASA Created a Collection of Spooky Space Sounds for Halloween

NASA's latest data release turns signals from beyond Earth into spooky sounds that are sure to send a chill up your spine.

SpaceX Launches ‘Better Than Nothing’ Starlink Beta
SpaceX Launches ‘Better Than Nothing’ Starlink Beta

Those lucky few who have gotten invitations to try the service will have to pay a hefty up-front cost, and the speeds aren't amazing. Still, it's a new generation of satellite internet.

Beyond Zoom: Virtual Gathering Spaces for the Holidays and Beyond
Beyond Zoom: Virtual Gathering Spaces for the Holidays and Beyond

Software is not yet available for a complete metaverse experience, but there are some promising new communication platforms that might provide an intermediate step between Zoom and a full-blown metaverse.

NASA Begins Assembling Spacecraft to Study Enormous Metallic Asteroid
NASA Begins Assembling Spacecraft to Study Enormous Metallic Asteroid

Next year, this piece of hardware will ride a SpaceX rocket into orbit, and then it's off to the asteroid belt to study its namesake, the metal-rich asteroid 16 Psyche.