by Tyler Durden
After a string of embarrassing launch failures – including the “total loss” of the secretive Zuma satellite – the Elon Musk-run company is preparing for the first test launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket after more than five years of delays.
Despite the company’s checkered record, will attract a sold-out crowd of observers at The Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex. Tickets to the event, which cost $195, also include a champagne toast and a commemorative glass.
The Falcon Heavy, purportedly the heaviest operational rocket in the world, is expected to launch for the first time on Tuesday.
“I feel quite giddy and happy actually,” Musk said on a call with reporters Monday ahead of the planned flight, adding – in an ill-timed stab at humor – that he’ll consider it a success if it doesn’t blow up on the launch pad. The launch, originally scheduled for 1:30 pm ET from Florida, has been delayed to 2:20 pm ET due to high winds, the company said. If it doesn’t launch by 4 pm, SpaceX has a back-up window to launch the rocket on Wednesday.
Upper atmosphere winds currently 20% above max allowable load. Holding for an hour to allow winds to diminish. #FalconHeavy
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 6, 2018
If the launch is successful, it will help repair SpaceX’s reputation, allowing it to fully embrace a crucial new line of business: Launching government satellites into space with its reusable rockets.
However, Musk pointed out that the rocket isn’t equipped to carry humans to Mars.
SpaceX’s new, larger rocket is a reusable “super heavy” launch vehicle that will allow the closely held company to bid on heavier payloads, such as larger commercial satellites and national security missions. It’s not the rocket that could eventually take humans to Mars—that’s the “Big F—ing Rocket” Musk announced in September. But the Falcon Heavy’s maiden flight is targeting Earth-Mars elliptical orbit, bringing Musk’s Red Planet dreams into reach.
“This is a test mission, so we don’t want to set expectations of perfection,” Musk said.
The head of a commercial space-flight lobbying group said the launch is a “big deal” that showcases the “tremendous innovation” in the industry, spearheaded by SpaceX.
“Falcon Heavy is a new rocket, and new rockets are a big deal,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group for the private space sector. “It’s a really big deal that showcases the tremendous innovation taking place in the commercial space sector.”
As Bloomberg explains, the Falcon Heavy is “basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together” – allowing to offer triple the power of the Falcon 9, which was introduced back in 2010. The Falcon Heavy is the company’s first new rocket since 2010.
In terms of design, Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s first new rocket since 2010 is basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, tripling the launch power. While one Falcon 9 has nine Merlin engines in its first stage, Falcon Heavy has 27. That’s more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, which SpaceX says is equivalent to roughly 18 747 airplanes. It’s twice as large from a capacity perspective as its closest competitor, United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy.
The launch is high stakes: If it’s a success, Musk expects to start ferrying commercial satellites into space in three to six months.
If it’s another failure, it could take more than a year for the company to recover.
In a typical example of Muskian showmanship, the rocket will carry the Tesla CEO’s personal roadster into space.
If the demonstration flight goes well, Musk said SpaceX would plan to fly its first mission for a paying satellite operator in three to six months. If it goes badly and the pad is destroyed, it could take up to a year to restore the site before launches can resume, though rocket production would continue during that time, he said.
“It will be a really huge downer if it blows up,” Musk said. “If something goes wrong, hopefully it goes wrong far into the mission so we at least learn as much as possible along the way.”
Because of the experimental nature of the first flight, and perhaps as a way to burnish the spectacle, Musk decided the payload will be his personal Roadster sports car made by another one of his companies, Tesla Inc., that will be set to play David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on repeat as it’s hurled into the deep beyond. Musk said that three cameras would be mounted on the Roadster, which should provide “epic views” of the car floating toward Mars, if all goes to plan.
Musk posted an animated video of what the event could look like here, set to the David Bowie song “Life on Mars?”: