If you had been following the news, you know what my headline means exactly. Yes, the launch of the Falcon Heavy – the most powerful rocket build by our very own rocket man’s company, SpaceX.
A very short brief:
On Feb 06 2018 at 3:45 PM EST, SpaceX made its way into history (again) with its successful launch of Falcon Heavy with its special payload – Elon Musk’s own Tesla midnight cherry red roadster with a driver named “Starman” in it.
After this historical event, there were so many questions that people wanted answers to. I myself was asked so many questions like What’s so special about this rocket? Why did he send a car? Why launch a rocket with nothing but a car? Where is the car now? And many others. So I have put together answers to all the possible questions.
Let’s start with what is special about Falcon Heavy – I have already discussed about that here, so not going to do that again.
The next big question: Why Falcon Heavy was a TEST launch?
SpaceX was experimenting with something no one has ever done before. So every experiment has to be tested before it is put in real action. Hence this launch. They did the same thing while attempting to land back the boosters after the the first stage separation (which they failed more than twice before succeeding). Although this was a test launch, there was a subtext(mission) to it in case if it was a success. Keep reading.
What was in the Falcon Heavy?
The Tesla roadster, a sports car that belonged to the rocket man himself. Strapped on the driver’s seat was an “authentic” SpaceX’s astronaut spacesuit that the company designed for Mars human mission. It’s the real deal. Elon Musk named him Starman after David Bowie’s song with the same name. The car plays David Bowie’s songs “Space Oddity” & “Life on Mars” in loop (of course no one can hear it space) for Mars’s orbit which he titled “A Red Car for the Red Planet”. But why? Usually a test rocket carries huge payload like concrete or steel blocks to test its mass. Elon Musk thought it was boring and went another way.
There were other minor details as well. The stage where the roadster stood contained SpaceX’s logo created by writing 6k+ SpaceX’s employee names. Now that’s one reason to wish we had worked for SpaceX! It also contains a printed circuit which says “Made on Earth by Humans”. It was also loaded up with a small disc called Arch – a disc like data crystal that contains three books from Isaac Asimov’s Classic Foundation Trilogy. Read a detailed article about it here.
How Falcon Heavy was a successful launch?
While sending a rocket to space, many things could go wrong from the ground till its last stage. This was expected off from Falcon Heavy and the company was prepared to accept any mishaps.
However, It was a success (almost). As expected, the FH lifted off without any complications at the ground. Then followed by the two booster separation which was landed back simultaneously and safe at the rocket Landing Zone 1 & 2 as planned. Next stage was to separate the center core booster that lifts the upper stage into orbit insertion. Center core booster was scheduled to land back at the “Of Course I still Love You” drone ship LZ, which suffered engine failures on re-entry and blew up on landing. The next stage was to relight the upper stage to orbit in the van Allen Belts for few hours to test radiation resistance and then relight the upper stage again to put the roadster into the heliocentric orbit and carry on with its mission – which was a success.
Yes, it was overall a successful launch.
Now that it’s a success what will roadster do up in space?
The roadster now put into the heliocentric orbit, is designed to cross Mars orbit and reach Aphelion (Farthest distance from Sun). The trajectory was not designed to intercept Mars, so the car will not fly by Mars nor enter an orbit around Mars. The whole purpose of this orbit was to demonstrate that Falcon Heavy has the capability of launching payload that can be put into orbit that could reach Mars – one day carrying humans.
Based on observation and statistics, the car will not pass by Earth again. It will pass by Mars with 6.9 million kilometers of distance which is be well outside Mars’s gravitational sphere of influence.
The car will could drift in space for billion years, bu only as scrap metals and glasses, if not shattered by meteoroids. Other parts, paints will be destructed by radiations.
For those who missed the launch, watch it here:
Here is a video of Elon Musk’s reaction to Falcon Heavy Launch: Watching him say “That thing took off” makes you wonder the things one can achieve if they put their heart and soul into it.
What is next?
Following the successful launch of Falcon Heavy, SpaceX has many other projects in the pipeline for this year. This includes, launching astronauts to space on its Crewed Dragon spacecraft (which is its first) and preparing its BFR (Big Fucking Rocket) for potential tests in 2019.
Given the successful test launch, Elon Musk stated, the next FH launch could be in three to six months. He expects lot of Falcon Heavy rockets will be flying that will carry beefy communications satellite called Arabsat 6A; and Space Test Program 2 for the U.S. Air Force, a flight that will also launch the LightSail 2 solar sail for The Planetary Society.
Lets sit tight and watch where the show leads us. Shall we?