Last updated February 21, 2018 at 11:04 am
Watch the most anticipated space launch of 2018.
UPDATE: THE LAUNCH HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FOR 7:45AM AEDT, WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY.
It’s the most anticipated launch of 2018 – today’s the day when SpaceX test launch their brand new Falcon Heavy rocket.
You can watch the launch above, with the launch window opening at 5:30am AEDT, Wednesday 7 February.
What is it?
The Falcon Heavy could be a game-changer from SpaceX. It is essentially 3 of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, providing twice the amount of thrust of any other rocket available today. Each Falcon 9 is made up of 9 engines, giving the Falcon Heavy a total of 27 – the most number of engines ever used – and totalling 22,819 kilonewtons of thrust at liftoff.
This will allow Falcon Heavy to lift 64 tons of payload into a low Earth orbit.
What makes it a game-changer?
Not only does it outperform any rocket available today, only the Saturn V, which last flew in 1973, has ever been able to deliver more payload to space. Put simply – it can deliver more payload to space than anything else in the past 45 years. This will allow launches of everything from heavier satellites and equipment to low Earth orbit, to humans into deep space.
In addition to the Falcon Heavy opening doors to launch more, SpaceX is also promising to do it far cheaper. Each launch is currently being offered at the relative pittance of US$90 million. While that price can increase depending on what is required by the customer, it is still far cheaper than SpaceX’s competition.
United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy – the next most powerful rocket in use – can cost around US$400 million, while only carrying 22.5 tons of payload.
NASA’s in-development Space Launch System will eventually outperform the Falcon Heavy, but is expected to cost in excess of half a billion US dollars.
More payload, cheaper. The potential is huge. It could be used to launch larger satellites, equipment for the ISS, or to the Moon in advance of future missions. It could also stretch its legs towards Mars, sending nearly 27 tons to the red planet, including scientific equipment or equipment for future human explorers. Setting its sights on Pluto, it could send up to 3.5 tons of equipment.
While the Falcon Heavy was also intended to be used to send two space tourists on an orbit of the moon, those plans have changed to focus on using SpaceX’s next rocket, the BFR, as the launch system for all crewed missions.
What is it carrying this launch?
As the launch is the first time Falcon Heavy leaves the ground, there is no commercial payload loaded. However SpaceX founder and all-round boundary-pusher Elon Musk decided that, rather than putting test weights in the payload bay, the Falcon Heavy would carry something unique.
His solution: loading his own Tesla roadster, with a mannequin dressed as an astronaut (and named Starman) sitting in the driver’s seat, while the car’s stereo plays David Bowie’s Space Oddity on endless loop.
The car will be put into an orbit around the sun which will occasionally skirt close to Mars. However there is no chance of it crashing into the red planet and contaminating it with Earth-microbes.
I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 2, 2017
Is Falcon Heavy reusable?
After launch each Falcon 9 booster will separate and land individually – two at Kennedy Space Center and one on an autonomous drone ship in the Atlantic ocean.
In fact the two outer rockets have flown before – one launched a satellite in 2016, while the other has been used to send cargo to the ISS.
Will the launch be a success?
Launching rockets isn’t easy, and Musk has said there is a 50-50 chance of this launch going wrong. “I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage,” Musk said. “I would consider even that a win, to be honest.”
This is bang on time, right?
It’s fair to say that Elon Musk’s companies have a tenuous relationship with deadlines, and the Falcon Heavy is no different. Originally intended for 2013, the development of the Falcon Heavy has taken longer than anticipated.
“At first, it sounds really easy: Just stick two first stages on as strap-on boosters. How hard can that be?” Musk said. “But then everything changes,” Musk explained. “All the loads change, aerodynamics totally change; you’ve tripled the vibration and acoustics.”
What about the future?
Musk has already suggested that a Falcon Super Heavy could be possible by adding two more Falcon 9 rockets to the Falcon Heavy. “We could really dial it up to as much performance as anyone could ever want. If we wanted to we could actually add two more side boosters and make it Falcon Super Heavy,” Musk said during a press conference in the lead up to the Falcon Heavy launch.
With these 5 rockets combined, the Falcon Super Heavy would potentially have around 9 million pounds of thrust, or roughly twice the thrust of the Falcon Heavy.