SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket was successfully launched on February 6, 2018 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, from the same site used by NASA’s Saturn V rockets to carry Apollo missions to the moon. Two of the rocket’s boosters landed exactly as planned back in Florida, while a third was meant to land on an ocean platform. According to SpaceX’s founder and CEO, Elon Musk, the last booster most likely slammed into the ocean at a speed of approximately 500 kilometers per hour. Though the launch was unmanned, it included a Tesla roadster and a dummy called Starman, which are now situated in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Elon Musk said that the success of the launch had been surreal. “I didn’t really think this would work,” Musk told reporters, as he was aware of the things that could have gone wrong. Before the launch, he was imagining a big explosion. When asked what he learned after the launch, Musk replied that “crazy things come true.”
What is the Falcon Heavy?
The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket launched in the United States since the Apollo Missions. It is also the most powerful commercial rocket ever made: it is capable of lifting around 63,800 kilograms (140,660 pounds) into low-Earth orbit. In comparison, the second-most powerful rocket in production, the Delta IV Heavy, can carry around 22,560 kilograms (49,736 pounds). The Falcon Heavy is also a reusable rocket: once launched, it is able to return to Earth.
Why is this launch important?
The historic feat of the Falcon Heavy is important for two main reasons. First, it is way ahead of competition in the heavy-lift category. This is significant for both the fields of business and science, as it enables the launch of heavier payloads, encourages the private sector to participate in space-related missions and sparks discussions between planetary scientists. This is a big deal not only for getting things into low-Earth orbit, but also for commercial space. Many hope that the Falcon Heavy will make it easier to get humans back to the Moon and even to Mars in the future. Second, the Falcon Heavy has helped make access to space more affor
dable: the use of reusable rockets significantly lowers the price of space travel. The Falcon Heavy costs $90 million per launch, while its closest competitor, the Delta IV Heavy, costs nearly $500 million per launch. The Falcon is able to lift twice the payload to space for about a quarter of the cost while recycling rocket parts worth tens of millions of dollars!
The Falcon Heavy could start making paid missions to space within months. More flights are planned for later in 2018 as the company begins to seek out more customers for the Falcon Heavy. Additionally, public-private partnerships where the American government would take on the role of an investor are very likely in the near future. By 2020, Elon Musk plans to use the experience in developing the Falcon Heavy to make an even bigger rocket, the Big Falcon, for Mars exploration.