Published: Tue, February 06, 2018
Science | By Eileen Rhodes

SpaceX's hot new monster rocket ready for first test flight

SpaceX's hot new monster rocket ready for first test flight

Lead Image: SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket stands ready for launch on the historic launchpad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

The launch is set for 1:30 PM EST (10:30 AM PST), with a window that spans two and a half hours and closes at 4 PM EST.

Not just will the Falcon Heavy be able to move more than double as much mass to orbit as the next most powerful competitor, the Delta IV Heavy, but it will also do so at one-third the cost, according to SpaceX.

If it's a success, Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful and cheapest way to launch heavy payloads into space.

Based on the previous generation of Falcon 9 rockets, the Heavy is in fact composed of three Falcon 9 boosters. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit.

It's called Falcon Heavy, and if it launches as planned Tuesday, it'll become the most powerful rocket in use.

Falcon Heavy includes a massive center rocket booster, coupled with two side rocket boosters - which are actually two previously used Falcon 9 rockets. Many thought Musk was foolish for dabbling in a space startup, especially as he poured his own money into the venture. If something goes wrong during this time, the rocket stage - and the Roadster - might never fully escape Earth orbit, and would instead eventually burn up in our atmosphere.

For all its practical import, the Falcon Heavy is also significant for what it represents: the vanguard of an ever-widening effort to explore and commercialise space.

Residents may wish to follow the company's launch webcast for real time information concerning Tuesday's launch.

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The Falcon Heavy will lift off carrying this Tesla Roadster into orbit around the sun.

"It is going to get whacked pretty hard", Musk said.

The hope is that any failure comes far enough into the flight "so we at least learn as much as possible along the way".

The middle section (the center core), after it fires for a bit longer, is expected to separate from the second stage and land, too, in the Atlantic on a floating "droneship" that SpaceX, in its millennial kind of way, has named "Of Course I Still Love You".

Standing at more than 20 stories tall, Falcon Heavy has three core boosters and 27 Merlin engines on the first stage of the rocket.

If this carefully coordinated space "ballet" works, however, Musk's old auto will be running laps between the Sun and Mars in what's called a hyperbolic orbit.

If all three rockets do get up and running soon, space exploration could take a big leap, Hubbard said.

You can attribute the buzz to the Falcon Heavy's size: It will be the most powerful rocket in the world. There is now an 80 percent chance that local weather will be favorable for the mission to go ahead, but this being the rocket's first ever launch, there could well be delays due to technical issues. This would save the company the trouble of getting Falcon Heavy approved for human spaceflight only to turn around and replace it with the BFR.

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