In what has been described as the most significant space launch since the first shuttle launch nearly four decades ago, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy completed its maiden flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida this morning – accompanied by the sounds of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
Standing 23 stories tall, Falcon Heavy flew unmanned for its demonstration launch with Elon Musk’s own Tesla Roadster on board for the ride. Falcon Heavy rocket is SpaceX’s largest rocket yet and the most powerful booster since NASA’s mighty Saturn V moon rocket. Its first stage is powered by three core boosters based on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, with 27 engines firing in unison to produce about 5 million lbs. of thrust at liftoff – equivalent to eighteen 747’s taking off.
Amazingly two boosters touched down perfectly at SpaceX landing sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station near KSC. The third centre core was only able to relight one of the three engines necessary to land and hit the Atlantic Ocean at 483km per hour taking out the drone ship in the process.
Falcon Heavy’s unique payload, Musk’s own Tesla and its dummy passenger ‘Starman’ riding atop the rocket’s second stage will coast 6 hours through Earth’s Van Allen belts before restarting its engine to send the Roadster and Starman toward Mars.
The launch was the most ambitious yet for Elon Musk’s space company, putting SpaceX at the top of a short list of available heavy-lift rockets. Falcon Heavy is both more powerful and capable of lifting more weight than the biggest rockets offered by either United Launch Alliance (a Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint venture) or Arianespace – at a fraction of the cost.
When speculating on what would come after a successful test flight, Musk said that SpaceX “would be ready to do another Falcon Heavy flight pretty soon,” and added that it could be as quickly as 3 to 6 months away.