SpaceX successfully launched its new Falcon Heavy vehicle. Built out of three Falcon 9s, its 27 engines are capable of 5 million pounds of thrust, putting 140,700 pounds of payload into space. That’s twice what United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy Booster can do, but still shy of the mighty Saturn V rocket that took men to the moon.
The payload of today’s launch has been the source of a lot of conversation. At the tip of the vehicle was a Tesla roadster, complete with a dummy in the driver’s seat, dressed in a SpaceX spacesuit. The car will orbit the sun roughly as far out as Mars, but isn’t going to orbit the Red Planet itself, as was previously rumored.
In the future, the Falcon Heavy will be able to take equipment — and maybe even people — to the moon and beyond.
Watching it — live on the Internet with Jason Snell — was pretty incredible. Since the space shuttle program was shuttered, it’s been a pretty quiet time in terms of spaceflight in the U.S. NASA is working on its next-generation rocket, but until its ready, this is going to be a high water mark for space enthusiasts and the industry itself.
The launch went smoothly. A few moments later, the outer two lower stages separated from the stack and landed in unison back at the Cape:
Falcon Heavy side cores have landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2. pic.twitter.com/oMBqizqnpI
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 6, 2018
JUST LOOK AT THAT PHOTO. HOLY CRAP.
A few minutes later, the central core was supposed to touch down on the company’s drone ship at sea. It is unknown if that Falcon 9 lower stage survived.
At the end of the day, even with that possible hiccup, today was a success. SpaceX has proven it can fly a heavy-lift vehicle, giving NASA and other customers more flexibility when looking at how to get into low Earth orbit and beyond.