A day after SpaceX's Falcon Heavy blasted into space, the private spacefaring company has posted some spectacular images of the launch as well as updating the status of the Tesla Roadster that acted as ballast payload. In a Twitter post, CEO and Founder Elon Musk confirmed that the second stage of what is now the world's most powerful rocket fired successfully, sending the car and its dummy driver into an orbit that will take it well into the Asteroid Belt.
On February 6 at 3:45 pm EST, the first Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida on a demonstration mission. Due to the tremendous complexity of the new booster and the 50/50 chance that the mission might end in failure, no active satellite was carried in the nose cone of the vehicle. Instead, Mr Musk's own Tesla Roadster was used as ballast in a gesture that he characterized at a post-launch press conference as a ridiculous bit of fun.
At the conference, Musk confirmed that the core rocket that made up the center of the three-part first stage of the Heavy ran out of hypergolic igniter fuel to three of the engines, resulting in an ignition failure and the rocket hit the water at about 300 mph (480 km/h). He went on to say that, if the onboard cameras survived, "There could be some pretty fun footage."
Musk went on to say that neither of the recovered side boosters that successfully landed at Cape Canaveral, Florida will be reused because they were not built for commercial missions. They are Block Four versions of the Falcon 9, and SpaceX will be using only Block Five versions from now on.
Also, during yesterday's conference, Musk expressed concern about the second stage of the rocket, which spent five hours parked in the Van Allen Belt before it restarted its Merlin engine for the third time to escape Earth's gravity. The Van Allen Belts are regions of intense radiation created by cosmic ray particles captured by the Earth's magnetic field. They act as a protective shield for the planet, but they can be a hazard for spacecraft that do not make a quick transition of the belts.
In this case, the second stage was not adversely affected, and fired as scheduled. It expended its propellant entirely, causing it to not only reach escape velocity, but also to reach an orbit that will circle the Sun at a distance between 91 million mi (150 million km) and 240 million mi (390 million km) – well into the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, and almost as far out as the orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres.
The Tesla Roadster atop the stage was the focus of media attention, especially after SapceX livestreamed video from the cameras mounted around it. The car has a spacesuited mannequin called Starman at the wheel and even includes a tiny Roadster with a tiny Starman.
"That will really confuse them" said Musk, referring to any future space travelers that might come across the Roadster.
Musk said that the spacesuit worn by Starman is a fully functional production model that took three years to design. He went on to say that the problem was to make a suit that works and looks good.
According to Musk, the battery aboard the Roadster was good for only 12 hours after launch, which is confirmed by the YouTube video that has switched from live feed to a four hour, 40 minute recording.
When asked about the price of the Falcon Heavy project, Musk said that it had estimated development costs of over US$500 million. The company is now transitioning from the Falcon 9 and Heavy as it concentrates more on developing the BFR, which he estimates will fly in three or four years.
In the meantime, SpaceX has released a suite of images of the historic flight, which you can see in the gallery.
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