- SpaceX is planning to launch its supercharged Falcon Heavy rocket today from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- If it works, Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket system in use.
- SpaceX says Falcon Heavy could someday deliver more than 37,000 pounds of stuff to Mars in a single trip.
- You can watch SpaceX’s live video of the event to catch the historic moment as it unfolds.
Elon Musk is getting ready to launch the most powerful rocket that’s taken off from US soil since Americans went to the moon in the 1970s. It’ll be the strongest rocket the world has seen since the 1980s – if it works.
On Tuesday afternoon, SpaceX is set to send Falcon Heavy into space for the first time, from a pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
But on a call with reporters, Musk warned not to expect perfection.
“I’ll just be happy if it clears the pad and doesn’t blow the pad to smithereens,” he told Business Insider’s space correspondent, Dave Mosher (who’s on the ground in Florida for the launch).
The rocket will carry Musk’s red 2008 Tesla Roadster as a test payload. The colorful stunt is meant to demonstrate how the company might someday help deliver people and other goods into space.
“Red car for a red planet,” Musk said on Twitter in early December.
Musk has repeatedly said there’s a good chance Falcon Heavy could burst into flames before it reaches its destination. If this carefully coordinated space “ballet” works, however, Musk’s old car will be running laps between the sun and Mars in what’s called a hyperbolic orbit.
“Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent,” Musk tweeted in December.
On Monday, Musk posted a photo of the car with a dummy driver Musk referred to as “Starman”.
“The payload will be … playing Space Oddity, on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit,” Musk said in December.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy system could one day ferry a payload of 37,000 pounds – roughly 14 Tesla Roadsters’ worth of mass – to Mars. That will come in handy if Musk ever manages to send humans to colonize the red planet.
The key difference between the Falcon Heavy and other rocket systems is two-fold: it’s both bigger and cheaper.
- Dave Mosher/Business Insider
The 230-foot-tall Falcon Heavy system relies on three reusable boosters, which are each made of nine cone-shaped engines, for a total of 27 engines on board. Unlike most booster systems, these rocket-pushers are not for one-time use. When successful, the boosters push their payload into the sky, then detach, land themselves, and get refurbished for re-use. After a single use, boosters from other traditional systems generally fall into the ocean, burn up in the atmosphere, or get dumped on the ground.
SpaceX first successfully tested the new recycling system in March of 2017 with its Falcon 9 rocket. Those same reusable cores make the price of a Falcon Heavy launch just $90 million, about a third of the cost of the competition.
The other perk of the new system, of course, is its power. The only rocket that was ever able to carry more stuff into space than Falcon Heavy was the Saturn V rocket, which was developed and used by NASA for its Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 70s.
Musk said the beauty of his new system is that it’s expandable: “we could add two more side boosters, make it Falcon Super Heavy, get upwards of 9 million pounds of thrust,” he said Monday.
According to SpaceX, Falcon Heavy is capable of carrying roughly 2.6 times as much stuff as the US space shuttle program did:
Last week, SpaceX fired up Falcon Heavy on the launchpad, the first sign that the company was nearly ready for this week’s historic event.
Other space moguls are rooting for a successful launch.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who’s heading up his own privately-funded space company, sent Musk a well-wishing tweet on Monday. Musk chimed back just hours later with his own kissy face for the Blue Origin boss.
Those who want to see the drama unfold can tune in to the livestream of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch on Tuesday afternoon. The launch is scheduled to occur between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. ET, though there is always a chance of delays.
Musk insists that whatever happens, it’s going to be worth your time to watch the launch. “It’s either going to be an exciting success, or an exciting failure,” he said on the Monday call.