Today, February 6th at 1:30pm SpaceX will launch the Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket this generation has ever seen. With the ability to lift double payload, the rocket has three Falcon 9 engine cores with a total of 27 engines and a combined total of 5 million pounds of thrust. SpaceX is also attesting a triple retrieval of engine cores, two which will land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the third will land on the Of Course I Still Love you, an autonomous spaceport drone ship or ASDS, in the Atlantic Ocean.
The stakes are extremely high for this launch. If successful, this unprecedented launch signifies the dawn of a new era in space flights leading the way to manned space flights. If the launch fails, it could delay the possibility of resuming manned spaceflights drastically.
While we hope for success, failure is always an option during maiden voyages and NASA knows this all too well with their experience using Saturn rockets, the closes US made rocket to the Falcon rocket line. Should the rocket explode on Pad 39A, this would drastically set back the Crew Dragon program because this is the only launch pad that has a special walkway constructed which can host the Crew Dragon flight. This is an important consideration given that NASA’s contract with Russia to use spacecraft for travel is only guaranteed through 2019. The current relationship between Russia and the US could lead to that contract not being renewed. If this launch is successful, then NASA is planning to launch the first crew mission in December.
A Falcon 9 rocket, a less-powerful cousin to the Falcon Heavy, exploded and destroyed a launch pad and resulted in a huge set back. It took nearly $50 million dollars and over a year to rebuild the launch pad. Should the Falcon Heavy destroy Pad 39A, there is a chance of retrofitting another launch site but that still could delay the launch of the first flight crew since the space shuttle program, as it is unclear how costly and how much time it would take to do so.
This historic launch is an extremely important one. The launch window opens at 1:30pm and will extend to 4:00pm. The payload for this launch is the modified Tesla Roadster for mass simulation. The hyperbolic trajectory will take the care Tesla Roadster weighing about 2,760 pounds into a heliocentric orbit around the sun with the hopes that it will take it as far as the distance to Mars. “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 tweeted in December. Musk said the midnight cherry red Tesla Roadster, which sells for $200,000 brand new, will be playing David Bowie’s iconic hit “Space Oddity” as it soars into the cosmos. SpaceX claims that it can haul 37,040 pounds to Mars.
While the car is significantly under the weight load carrying capacity of the Falcon Heavy, it is milestone in a much bigger goal. The goal is for NASA to eventually develop a souped-up model of the planed Space Launch System so that it has an enlarged upper stage by the early 2020’s. This way NASA can design surplus space shuttle engines and booster components to accommodate astronaut crews for space flight to the moon and eventually beyond. The envisioned mega-rocket will be a multibillion project. This mega rocket will be capable of 8.8 million pounds of thrust with the potential of 11.9 million pounds of thrust depending on the configuration. To put that in perspective the Saturn V rocket had the capability of 7.5 million pounds of thrust while the Space Shuttle Program’s launched only used approximately 6.8 million pounds of thrust.
This high-steaked inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy can be seen from Osceola County and all of Central Florida depending on weather conditions. Viewing the launch over Central Florida is favorable in our area, as it is supposed to be mostly sunny and in the upper 70’s during the launch window. Keep in mind that multiple factors play into a launch that we don’t normally monitor such as launch winds. Should the launch get scrubbed on Tuesday, SpaceX is planning to re-open the launch window on Wednesday.