After the Saturn V family of rockets that enabled Apollo 11 to land on the moon in 1969, the most powerful rocket ever was successfully fired by SpaceX from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday. Powered by 27 engines, Falcon Heavy took a Tesla roadster with a mannequin wearing a spacesuit into the space.
The initial plan was to put the car, carrying a note on its circuit note saying ‘Made on Earth by humans’, on a path around the Sun after it was propelled up to the distance of Mar’s orbit. However, an image shared by Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX and Tesla, on his Twitter account around 7am Pakistan Standard Time (PST) showed the updated orbital path to be taken by the roadster. Now, it is set to cross Mar’s orbit and proceed towards the Asteroid Belt in the coming months. The roadster is expected to keep floating in deep space for millions of years. A live stream of the journey continued till around 145pm PST after which Tesla’s battery died out.
As precise information about the exact orbit of the car remains unavailable from SpaceX, some journalists and planetary scientists have taken to Twitter seeking answers from their colleagues.
Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society tweeted, “Asteroid and orbital dynamics people! To arms! (To models!) What is the expected lifetime of an object of this size in this orbit before it hits something? I’ll accept an answer to within an order of magnitude.”
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at Harvard, tweeted to Musk, asking, “Elon, what is the inclination of Roadster’s orbit to the ecliptic? Also, can you confirm once and for all whether the Roadster separated from or remains attached to the second stage?”
On the other hand, several astronauts associated with United States’ National Aeronautical and Space Agency (NASA) have hailed the launch for opening up new vistas in space travel thanks to the relatively low-cost design of Falcon Heavy. The successful flight is expected to boost plans of sending humans again to the Moon and expedite efforts towards sending the first-ever mission with human crew to Mars.
SpaceX’s website claims that Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost. It has the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb) — a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel.
Falcon Heavy is composed of three Falcon 9 rockets, each powered with nine merlin engines. Together these 27 engines generated more than five million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately 18 747-aircrafts as the rocket set off into the space on Tuesday. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit.
The entire cost of the launch was around $90 million, almost 10 times less than the estimated cost of comparable rockets maintained by NASA.
Another significant feature of SpaceX’s rocket system is that individual rockets safely land back on the Earth’s surface after propelling the objects into the space. Two of the three Falcon 9 rockets in the Falcon Heavy successfully landed back at launchpads in Florida about eight minutes after the flight on Tuesday. The central rocket carrying the Tesla roadster was expected to land at a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean but it has still been unaccounted for.