- Dave Mosher/Business Insider
- SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, has finally launched Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket the company has ever built.
- Business Insider was on the ground as the rocket lifted off on Tuesday afternoon.
It’s a big day for SpaceX and Elon Musk.
The company on Tuesday launched Falcon Heavy, its biggest rocket yet and the most powerful operational launch system in the world.
Business Insider was on the ground at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch the launch live.
The plan was for Falcon Heavy to ignite its three large boosters around 1:30 p.m. ET, but the rocket wound up lifting off at 3:45 p.m.
SpaceX deployed weather balloons to get the most up-to-date data on the atmospheric conditions.
“Upper atmosphere winds currently 20% above max allowable load,” Musk tweeted around noon. “Holding for an hour to allow winds to diminish.”
On Monday, Musk visited his “monster” rocket, which stands as tall as a 23-story building.
“The weather’s looking good. The rocket’s looking good,” Musk told reporters during a phone call on Monday. “Normally I feel super stressed out the day before. This time I don’t. That may be a bad sign. I’m not sure.”
Below, you can watch the broadcast from the event. Here’s a timeline of what happened.
A timeline of Falcon Heavy’s first flight
An animation released by SpaceX shows each step of Falcon Heavy’s journey into space:
- T-90 minutes before the scheduled launch time: SpaceX’s launch director gave the go-ahead to load the rocket with fuel. Falcon Heavy’s fuel mix includes rocket-grade kerosene, known as RP-1, and liquid oxygen. Musk said in a call with reporters on Monday that, in total, there was the equivalent of 4 million pounds of TNT on the launchpad – that’s 1.8 kilotons, or as much as a tactical nuclear weapon.
- An hour ahead of blastoff: Pre-launch checks began.
- 45 minutes before: The company’s launch director gave the thumbs-up for launch.
- During blastoff, Musk hoped Falcon Heavy would at least lift off the ground and move away from NASA’s Launch Complex 39A – the same location Apollo astronauts launched from and may again soon) – and not explode into countless pieces. “I’ll consider it a win if it clears the pad and doesn’t blow the pad to smithereens,” Musk told Business Insider during a press call on Monday. He got his wish.
- 1 minute, 6 seconds: The system successfully weathered the most mechanical stress of its trip, during a moment known as max Q. Making it through the first two minutes is a very good sign.
- 2 minutes, 33 seconds: Two of the three booster engines separated from the core. Each first-stage booster has nine engines, making for a total of 27 engines. The two boosters then headed back toward landing sites to be refurbished and eventually reused.
- 3 minutes, 7 seconds: The center booster traveled farther up, giving the payload more of a push before detaching too.
- 3 minutes, 15 seconds: The rocket’s second-stage engine started. It cut off 8 1/2 minutes into the voyage, then will restart at 28 minutes, 22 seconds.
- 7 minutes, 58 seconds: The two side boosters (the ones that detached first) successfully guided themselves to a landing. At 8 minutes, 19 seconds, the central booster was expected to land on a cleverly named drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, but it ran of of propellent and instead crashed into the water going 300 mph, Musk later told reporters.
- 28 minutes, 52 seconds: The second-stage engine cut off. Falcon Heavy’s uppermost stage, which carries the Tesla Roadster, is now coasting through intense radiation fields around Earth. “Will spend 5 hours getting zapped in Van Allen belts & then attempt final burn for Mars,” Musk tweeted after the launch. On Monday, he said, “it’s going to get whacked pretty hard” by high-energy particles. This path is designed partially to prove SpaceX’s rocket can survive the punishment – and hopefully win SpaceX new launch customers. (A single Falcon Heavy launch is expected to cost $90 million, which is about one-third the cost of other providers.)
As the upper stage makes it through that radiation, SpaceX is broadcasting live footage from the Roadster.
You can watch the launch on the company’s YouTube webcast below.