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World's Largest Operating Rocket Launches Into Space

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

At 3:45pm ET yesterday, the commercial company SpaceX successfully launched the next larger version of their Falcon rocket, the Falcon Heavy, from Cape Canaveral’s launch pad 39A and became the world’s most powerful operating rocket.  Historically, the Saturn V was able to generate 7.5 million pounds thrust during the Apollo program compared to the 5 million pounds of thrust of the current Falcon Heavy.  "Heavy” is sometimes used in a rocket’s name to indicate its larger version (e.g., ‘Atlas V Heavy’, ‘Delta IV Heavy’, etc.).  Standing 230 feet tall and driven by three separate boosters comprised of 27 Merlin engines, the Falcon Heavy can carry up to 140,700 pounds of payload.


The SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launches from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on February 6, 2018  3:45pm ET.


The launch was considered a test flight - and not slated as a mission.  Of course, the event is not without some rhyme-or-reason, and instead of using weighted blocks for the payload (considered “boring” to SpaceX), a red Tesla Roadster was placed in trajectory with a dummy traveler at the wheel.  The “car-in-space” is planned to orbit the Sun at a distance equivalent to Mars.  However, the over-success of the jettisoned payload will place the Roadster at a further orbit than expected, entering the Asteroid Belt somewhere between Mars and Jupiter instead.


Believe It or Not: This is an actual image from Space showing the payload from
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy - a Tesla Roadster - enroute to a distant orbit about the Sun.


The Tesla Roadster cruising through space is quite a sight to behold, and live streams were made available shortly after launch for everybody to see.  As this was SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk's favorite car, it was humored that this must have provided motive to make the launch succeed.  The success of the launch proceeded with a simultaneous touchdown of the two side boosters at Kennedy Air Force Station, but the middle booster missed the target drone ship in the Atlantic, crashing about 300 feet from the barge due to failed return-engines, destroying itself and partly damaging the drone ship.

Although the purpose of the launch was primarily to test the inaugural Falcon Heavy rocket, sending a “mock payload” into Space can always benefit the sake of verifying flight principles such as orbital trajectories.  Some commercial space industries are still trying to better understand the basics of orbital mechanics and if there is anything yet to know about the laws of motion or to an astronomer’s jargon when he refers to “spacetime".

The Falcon Heavy rocket represents what it's going to take to bring us closer to a mission to Mars, with a reusability theme being key to achieve the necessary cost reductions.