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.



Tesla is set to unveil something big tonight. Here’s everything we know about it

Tesla is a hype machine. What other company can make a live crowd ooh and ahh over at-home battery storage, or line up hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for a sedan? But even for Elon Musk, making a big rig sexy and desirable is a stretch. However, with his usual hyperbole, that’s exactly what he’s promising to do, and while he’s at it, he’s going to “blow your mind clear out of your skull.”

Elon Musk’s vision has always been for Tesla to be more than a car company. He wants to shift the world to sustainable energy, using electricity generated by the sun to power a range of vehicles, from cars, to SUVs, to busses, and yes, Class 8 trucks—the massive 18 wheelers that loom over all other freeway traffic. So before the 8 pm reveal in Los Angeles, here’s what we know.

Elon has been thinking about trucks for a while. In his Master Plan, Part Deux, a mission statement for Tesla he published in July 2016, Musk said he wanted to “expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments.”

In order to be skull-shattering, though, Musk is going to have to unveil something very special. Because while Tesla can take credit for igniting the electric car market, that was a sparse space before the company jumped in. The electric truck market, on the other hand, is already plenty competitive: Startups and established constructors alike all recognize that an electric drivetrain can be greener, cheaper, and easier to drive.

On Instagram he joked his truck will transform into a giant robot, fight aliens, and make one hell of a latte. (Well, he was probably joking.) Tesla has released teaser images of the truck, and we know it’s going to be sleek, probably black and silver, and have LED headlights. Beyond that, all we can do is make some informed inferences.

Bet on Batteries

Elon Musk is perhaps the world’s largest battery fan, so his semi-truck isn’t going to be a hybrid, with a diesel engine tucked away somewhere for emergencies. It’s not going to have a hydrogen fuel cell on board.

Expect the truck to be 100 percent battery powered, probably with lithium ion cells laid flat along the floor, as with Tesla’s cars. That keeps the center of gravity low, and helps with handling, which is especially important in a high sided vehicle that drives through strong cross winds.

Tesla builds its batteries in modules, and then uses as many modules as it takes for each application, whether that’s stationary storage for Powerwalls in homes, large scale grid storage like it deployed in Puerto Rico, or movable storage in cars. Multiplying that up to truck scale shouldn’t be too challenging, technologically, but the logistics are another matter.

Tesla’s big Model 3 bottleneck has so far been the battery pack, after all. The company has struggled to get the automated production line at its Gigafactory in Nevada running, so investors will be looking for Musk to explain how, and where, he plans to build his trucks, and how he’ll avoid the same problem.

Spoiler Alert

Tesla is big on aerodynamics, and Musk cites the physics of air resistance often—it increases with the square of speed. Just punching through the air is a huge power drain, even on a sleek car with retracting door handles to make it as slippery as possible. A Tesla truck will employ the latest aerodynamic science, likely with active spoilers and deflectors that adjust their angle to give the best performance.

Charge It

Electric trucks will still need charging, even if Tesla manages to stuff in enough batteries to give a range of a few hundred miles. Tesla’s current network of Superchargers can rejuice a Model S car in 40 minutes, but a truck is going to need a commensurately larger charger.

Musk may suggest that the vehicles are best for fixed routes between two points where chargers can be installed, or where the truck can sit overnight. Hauling goods from a port to an inland distribution center would be an ideal use case. Lugging lumber out of an isolated forest and across the country, less so.

The Case for the Cost

Finally, there’s the price. Cost-sensitive fleet operators are much less prone to buying on a whim than car purchasers, no matter how flashy the tech. But Musk will likely make the case that even if his truck is more expensive upfront, over five years it will repay the investment with lower fuel and maintenance costs.



Tesla says world’s largest battery installation is halfway done

At a Jamestown, South Australia event on Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the company was halfway done installing a 100MW/129MWh utility-grade battery bank near the site of the 100MW Hornsdale Wind Farm.

The battery bank will be the largest grid-tied system in the world when it’s complete. (Currently, the largest grid-tied system is a 30MW/120MWh facility built by AES Energy Storage in Southern California.) The project grew out of a Twitter bet between Australian software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and Telsa and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. In response to Cannon-Brookes’ incredulity about the speed that Tesla was claiming it could install grid-tied batteries, Musk promised to deliver a system to South Australia, a state that’s suffered debilitating blackouts in recent summers, “in 100 days or its free.”

But “100 days or it’s free” didn’t include time negotiating contracts, and after the bet Tesla went though a competitive bidding process with the state of South Australia for access to an A$150 million ($115 million) renewable energy fund to cover the cost of the batteries. Earlier this year, Musk gave estimates on Twitter that suggested a 129MWh system would cost $32.35 million before taxes and labor. Tesla won the bidding round and partnered with French company Neoen, the owner of the Hornsdale Wind Farm in the mid-north region of South Australia. Musk later commented that if Tesla missed its 100-day deadline, the company could stand to lose “$50 million or more.”

This Friday, Tesla announced the start of its 100-days countdown, initiated after the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) approved the project.

Tesla Powerpacks in South Australia


The Tesla CEO also seemed to make an opening bid for more Tesla projects in Australia. According to ABC, the CEO told the Friday night crowd that “Australia could be powered by 1,890 square kilometers of solar panels—roughly a tenth the area of Sydney backed up by seven square kilometesr of batteries.” Tesla’s recent purchase of solar panel manufacturer SolarCity could put the company in a position to offer solar fields, as well.



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.

It’s not only Google’s AI that has the potential to defeat humans in their own game. Existing since 2015, OpenAI is also a name in the list of companies formed by our space-loving entrepreneur, Elon Musk. Their bot can also do wonders and embarrass humans.

At an e-sports tournament hosted by Valve, OpenAI’s bot managed to defeat pro gamer Danylo Ishutin, more commonly known by alias Dendi.

It was a 1 vs 1 Dota 2 match in a controlled environment but the AI’s success is still remarkable. Also, this has been the very first instance of an artificially intelligent system defeating world class players in an eSports competition.

Elon Musk reached to Twitter to reveal the cause of his excitement while he also compared the Dota 2’s complexity with Chess and Go. Was he indirectly comparing the OpenAI bot with AlphaGo?

OpenAI first ever to defeat world’s best players in competitive eSports. Vastly more complex than traditional board games like chess & Go.

The pro-grade Dota player was quite surprised as he got thrashed by the ruthless AI in two games which ultimately compelled him to cancel further matches. The AI “feels a little like [a] human, but a little like something else,” Dendi said.

The bot managed to show off its Dota skills after getting trained for two weeks, though it managed to feed itself with tons of real-time experience during that period. OpenAI’s future plans include preparing their bot for the complete 5 vs 5 Dota matches.

OpenAI is a non-profit that Musk created to save humans from evil computers. It has been a couple of times when Musk has warned about the negative possibilities of AI. He even got into a verbal clash with Mark Zuckerberg for downplaying future threats related to AI.

Drop your thoughts in the comments.

There aren’t many people in the world who can justifiably call Mark Zuckerberg a dumb-ass, but Elon Musk is probably one of them.

Early on Tuesday morning, in the latest salvo of a tussle between the two tech billionaires over the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, Musk said that Zuckerberg’s “understanding of the subject is limited.”

I won’t rehash the entire argument here, but basically Elon Musk has been warning society for the last few years that we need to be careful of advanced artificial intelligence. Musk is concerned that humans will either become second-class citizens under super-smart AIs, or alternatively that we’ll face a Skynet-like scenario against a robot uprising.

Zuckerberg, on the other hand, is weary of fear-mongering around futuristic technology. “I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic,” Zuckerberg said during a Facebook Live broadcast on Sunday. “And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios… I just don’t understand it. It’s really negative and in some ways I think it is pretty irresponsible.”

Then, responding to Zuckerberg’s “pretty irresponsible” remark, Musk said on Twitter: “I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited.”

It’s a little unfair to call Zuckerberg’s understanding “limited”—Facebook has arguably put a lot more time, money, and research into AI than Musk’s companies.

We suspect the real bone of contention between the two nerds has more to do with time scales: Zuckerberg’s stance on AI is that it will massively improve the human condition (and probably Facebook ad revenues) in the short term, but Musk is more concerned with what happens further down the line, when it’s too late to put the sentient robot cat back in the bag.

In reality, a balanced approach that takes a little from column M and a pinch from column Z is probably the best way forward. There is already too much momentum in the twinned domains of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence for Musk’s concerns to be taken too seriously—but that doesn’t mean we have to blindly accelerate into a future powered by initially helpful Zuckbots.

We’ve known for awhile that SpaceX’s plan to get an uncrewed capsule to Mars by the end of next year was a little too ambitious. Last week, we reported that Musk had abandoned plans for the Red Dragon capsule altogether, but he promised something much better was waiting in the wings. Now, thanks to Ars Technica‘s keen eye, we may know a little more about what form this vehicle will take.

Last year, Elon Musk outlined a bold plan to begin transporting large numbers of humans to the red planet in a concerted effort to begin colonizing Mars. It seems as though this plan was at once too big and too small, though. Rather than focusing efforts on landing a single capsule on the red planet, Musk wants to shoot for a plan that’s more in line with his original grand vision of sending larger ships to establish a Martian colony.

But he clearly doesn’t want it to be too big; no one can ever accuse Musk of not having a vision, but it also needs to be feasible and achievable if he ever actually wants to get SpaceX to Mars. That’s where this tweet comes in. The original SpaceX plan involved a massive rocket with 42 engines, with a 12-meter diameter, that would ferry ships of a 100 people or more to the red planet. Musk is now hinting that the rocket he is planning to use will have a 9-meter diameter. According to Ars Technica, this could leave the rocket with half the engines (21) and, therefore, half the mass.

That’s much more feasible on multiple levels: cost, mass (weight is the single most important criteria when considering spaceflight), technical complexity, and issues of production: Finding a place to build a rocket as massive as the one Musk had originally envisioned would be challenging.

This 9-meter rocket would be much bigger than the 3.7-m Falcon 9s the company is currently producing, but as Musk points out, it would fit in their current factories.

This is all a lot of conjecture, but considering the source is Musk himself, it’s feasible that the company is building a smaller version of their original Interplanetary Transport System. And because this rocket could be easier to build (though still will be a challenge), it could bring Musk’s Mars ambitions one step closer to reality.


As part of its mission to make its research easier to access, NASA is uploading decades’ worth of archived footage to YouTube. So far around 300 videos have been uploaded, with a further 200 on the way.

Each clip documents an important part of NASA’s history, including Space Shuttle landing research, X1 and X43A trial flights and the testing of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle.

Also Read

NASA flies plane through Earthly shadow of Kuiper Belt object

SpaceX chief Elon Musk has previously commented on how difficult it was to find historical footage on NASA’s website. Before the uploading project, curious flight-fans would have to laboriously search through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection via the Dryden Flight Research Center website. Standard search queries in Google would reveal nothing.

Now, with the video library prominently on the (renamed) Armstrong Flight Research Center’s website and YouTube channel, everyone has easy access to these fascinating historical highlights.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, speaking to U.S. governors this weekend, told the political leaders that artificial intelligence poses an “existential threat” to human civilization.

At the bipartisan National Governors Association in Rhode Island, Musk also spoke about energy sources, his own electric car company and space travel. But when Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, grinning, asked if robots will take everyone’s jobs in the future — Musk wasn’t joking when he responded.

Yes, “robots will do everything better than us,” Musk said. But he’s worried about more than the job market.

“AI is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization, and I don’t think people fully appreciate that,” Musk said. He said he has access to cutting-edge AI technology, and that based on what he’s seen, AI is “the scariest problem.”

Musk told the governors that AI calls for precautionary, proactive government intervention: “I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late,” he said.

He was clearly not thrilled to make that argument, calling regulation generally “not fun” and “irksome,” but he said that in the case of AI, the risks are too high to allow AI to develop unfettered.

“I think people should be really concerned about it,” Musk said. “I keep sounding the alarm bell.”

It’s true: For years, Musk has issued Cassandra-like cautions about the risks of artificial intelligence. In 2014, he likened AI developers to people summoning demons they think they can control. In 2015, he signed a letter warning of the risk of an AI arms race.

Musk has invested in a project designed to make AI tech open-source, which he asserts will prevent it from being controlled by one company. And earlier this year, Maureen Dowd wrote a lengthy piece for Vanity Fair about Musk’s “crusade to stop the A.I. apocalypse.” Dowd noted that some Silicon Valley leaders — including Google co-founder Larry Page — do not share Musk’s skepticism, and describe AI as a possible force for good.

Critics “argue that Musk is interested less in saving the world than in buffing his brand,” Dowd writes, and that his speeches on the threat of AI are part of a larger sales strategy.

Back at the governors conference, some politicians expressed skepticism about the wisdom of regulating a technology that’s still in development. Musk said the first step would be for the government to gain “insight” into the actual status of current research.

“Once there is awareness, people will be extremely afraid,” Musk said. “As they should be.”