SpaceX launches its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, this afternoon and soared to space, carrying its payload — CEO Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster — into an orbit that stretches into the asteroid belt. The Falcon Heavy’s first flight is finally over, and despite a fudged landing in the ocean, the rocket has shown its prowess and is likely ready to begin missions for customers.

Adding to the launch’s success, two of the Falcon Heavy’s rocket cores successfully touched down back on Earth after takeoff. The two outer boosters broke away mid-flight and returned to the Cape, touching down around 1,000 feet from one another on SpaceX’s concrete landing pads — Landing Zone 1 and Landing Zone 2. The center core then broke away from the vehicle’s upper stage, but did not land as intended on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean. That means SpaceX has now landed a total of 23 rockets upright.

The Falcon Heavy now holds the title for the world’s most powerful rocket, and its launch marks the first time a vehicle this massive has ever been sent up by a commercial company. It boasts 27 engines, more than any other working rocket has ever used, which together create a combined 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. That means the Falcon Heavy can put around 140,000 pounds of cargo into lower Earth orbit, more than twice as much weight as any other operational rocket. This powerful vehicle could open up entirely new types of business for SpaceX: launching heavy national security satellites or even sending large modules or people into deep space.

Today’s launch was a solid performance of what has been one of the most anticipated rockets to launch in the last decade. SpaceX first announced plans to develop the Falcon Heavy back in 2011, with the goal of launching it as early as 2013 or 2014. However, the inaugural mission has suffered numerous delays; two failures of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 pushed the launch even further out than planned. Musk also noted that engineering the rocket turned out to be unexpectedly difficult. “It actually ended up being way harder to do Falcon Heavy than we thought,” he said at a press conference in July. “At first it sounds easy: just stick two first stages on as strap-on boosters. How hard can it be? But then all the loads change, the aerodynamics change.”

The Falcon Heavy took off from a historic launchpad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, called LC-39A. It’s the same pad that was used to launch the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, as well as numerous Space Shuttle flights. SpaceX is currently leasing the site from NASA, and will continue to launch Falcon Heavy flights from the pad for the foreseeable future.

And now that the Falcon Heavy has launched, the rocket has a couple more missions to do this year. The rocket is scheduled to launch a large Saudi Arabian communications satellite called Arabsat 6A sometime in the first half of 2018. Then, it’ll send up a test payload for the US Air Force no earlier than June, as a way to certify the rocket for national security missions. After that, the Falcon Heavy is contracted to launch two additional communications satellites for Inmarsat and Viasat, but that’s it for now.

More customers could flock to the powerful rocket soon. And its cheap price tag may make it attractive to NASA, which could use the Falcon Heavy to send robotic missions to other worlds or humans back to the Moon. The future of the rocket has yet to be fully defined, but after today’s flight, the Falcon Heavy may soon have some ambitious work to do.

SpaceX aims to fire up its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday

The huge rocket described as “the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two” is in position on a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center as SpaceX engineers make the final preparations for what promises to be a spectacular static-fire engine test.

Should the procedure go according to plan, we could be just weeks away from witnessing the Falcon Heavy set off on its maiden mission all the way to Mars.

Reusable rocket system

The Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 rockets with a single upper stage, and in terms of power is beaten only by the Saturn V rocket that once took astronauts to the moon. Incorporating SpaceX’s tried-and-tested reusable rocket system, the Heavy’s various separation processes are designed to take place soon after launch, with all three boosters landing back on Earth.

But SpaceX CEO Elon Musk knows that if Tuesday’s test proves successful, the debut mission that would follow soon after is a monumental challenge, noting last year that there’s “a real good chance” the unmanned Falcon Heavy won’t even make it into orbit.

If it does all go to plan, the rocket will be taking Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster all the way to the red planet, where the CEO claims it could remain in orbit for a billion years. Musk earlier said he wanted to send “the silliest thing we can imagine,” adding that he loved the thought of a car “drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.”

“Beast” of a rocket

Considering the size and power of the Falcon Heavy, it’s little surprise that Musk himself describes it as a “beast.” The first stage of the 230-feet-tall (70 meters) rocket comprises “three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at lift-off, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft,” SpaceX says on its website.

While the Falcon 9 is designed for shorter missions, its big brother “restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the moon or Mars,” SpaceX says.

In the summer of 2017, Musk teased the launch of the Falcon Heavy in an animation posted on Instagram, though at that time SpaceX had been hoping to launch the rocket a couple of months later. With so much at stake, however, it’s little surprise that preparations are stretching out, though we could be just weeks from seeing the rocket head spaceward for the very first time.

A lot depends on how the all-important engine test goes on Tuesday. SpaceX doesn’t look as if it’ll be live-streaming the event, though you can watch it at Spaceflight Now with a subscription.

 

 

SpaceX on track to set record back-to-back Falcon 9 launches, 38 hours apart

SpaceX’s launch schedules have already solidified, but Elon Musk confirmed on Oct. 3 that the company is “aiming for two rocket landings in 48 hours this weekend”. In fact, a brief examination of the schedules suggests that SpaceX could attempt those two launches and landings in as few as 38 hours, easily beating the company’s previous launch cadence record of ~50 hours.

Aiming for two rocket landings in 48 hours this weekend

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

 

he two missions planned for “this weekend” are SES-11 on Saturday evening and Iridium NEXT-3 bright and early on Monday, October 9. Mirroring an exciting period of rapid-fire launches earlier this summer, SpaceX will again attempt to conduct two launches from both the West and East coasts nearly simultaneously. Just like the launch of BulgariaSat-1 and Iridium NEXT-3 in late June, the two upcoming launches will make use of one “new” Falcon 9 and one that has been recovered and refurbished. SES-11 will lift off atop Falcon 9 1031, previously tasked with launching the CRS-10 Dragon, and will be the third commercial reuse of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage in 2017.

SPACEX LAUNCH SCHEDULE

 

  • SES-11 scheduled for Saturday, October 7 at 6:53 pm EDT (3:53 pm PDT) from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Iridium NEXT-3 scheduled for Monday, October 9 at 8:37 am EDT (5:37 am PDT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA

Separated by the continental United States, both Falcon 9 boosters will attempt to land aboard SpaceX droneships within a period of 38 hours. Elon Musk proudly touted the fact that SpaceX had successfully recovered 16 Falcon 9 boosters since the company began recovery attempts, with 12 of those recoveries being consecutive successes since June of 2016. If the upcoming launches and landings go as planned, that figure will jump to 14 consecutive recoveries.

The success of SpaceX’s reuse program is undeniable and truly extraordinary given how quickly it has progressed. The program is central to SpaceX’s ultimate goal of creating a permanent human presence on other planetary bodies in the Solar System, something that Musk recently discussed in considerable detail. Developing a robust record of reliability both with launches and landings is a necessity if the company hopes to one day routinely launch and land dozens of passengers aboard their rockets.

In this sense, every single successful launch and every single successful recovery can be seen as small but tangible steps along the path to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

 

 

SpaceX’s Interplanetary Spaceship and Rocket simulation is out of this world

Elon Musk today gave us our first glimpse at what interplanetary travel and colonization could look like. In an Instagram post, Musk provided a series of five videos offering a look at a computer simulation of the SpaceX Interplanetary Spaceship and Rocket, and how it could, conceivably, one day shuttle humans between Earth and Mars.

The series of five short videos opens with a view of the new rocket design, a people carrier meant to ferry people between planets. We see astronauts boarding the vessel before it departs from Cape Canaveral Florida, blasting off the launchpad with over 28 million pounds of thrust.

In the second video, we see the rocket leaving the atmosphere at over 2,000 miles per hour. The booster then separates from the spaceship, heading back to Earth.

The booster sticks the landing on the launch mount in video three. Propellant is then loaded on to the rocket, and it’s re-used, blasted back into orbit to dock with, and refuel the spaceship while in orbit. The tanker, again, returns to Earth while the spaceship departs for Mars.

Video four shows the solar arrays departing from the spaceship. The arrays provide an estimated 200kW of energy that’ll power the ship as it coasts toward Mars.

And finally, video five, shows the spaceship entering Mars’ atmosphere and landing vertically, much like SpaceX’s rocket. Conditions are harsh, with temperatures reaching heights of 1,700 degrees Celsius (3,092 degrees Fahrenheit). Astronauts in specialized suits depart the vessel and, we presume, begin their lives on the red planet.