Hawthorne-based SpaceX is scheduled to launch a test mission of its so-called “Falcon Heavy” rocket Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, the maiden voyage of a launch vehicle envisioned to propel missions to the moon and Mars.
The latest information from the space center gives a launch window of 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. PST.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been urging people to tune into the streaming broadcast of the launch, though suggesting there’s a good chance the highly complex rocket will fail to reach orbit, or even crumble shortly after takeoff.
The mission plan for Falcon Heavy’s test flight is an elliptical orbit around the sun, ultimately intercepting the orbital path of Mars. And it will be carrying a pristine payload — Musk’s own cherry red Tesla Roadster.
Musk wrote on Twitter last year that the usual test cargo of concrete or steel blocks “seemed extremely boring,” so he opted to “send something unusual” into space for the trip.
“The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing `Space Oddity,’ on a billion year elliptical Mars orbit,” he wrote.
The 230-feet-tall, 27-engine Falcon Heavy is essentially triple the size of SpaceX’s traditional Falcon 9 rockets, which are used for satellite launches and cargo missions to the International Space Station. According SpaceX, the liftoff thrust of Falcon Heavy is roughly equivalent to 18 full- powered 747 jetliners.
Falcon Heavy includes a massive center rocket booster, coupled with two side rocket boosters — which are actually two previously used Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX has been perfecting the system of recovering Falcon 9 rockets for re-use in future missions — shaving millions of dollars from the cost of satellite launches.
Falcon Heavy is no different. In fact, SpaceX plans to try to recover all three of the rocket boosters following Tuesday’s launch, two back at Cape Canaveral and one at sea aboard the company’s whimsically named drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You.”
Musk has had high hopes for the Falcon Heavy vehicle, even suggesting that it might be used to send two people on a trip around the moon later this year, and ultimately used for regular cargo missions to Mars.
But Falcon Heavy’s inaugural launch has been repeatedly delayed, in part by a 2016 explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida that destroyed a multimillion-dollar satellite.
The design of the vehicle has proven to be so complex that even Musk has said the odds of its first launch failing are high. He said in an interview last year that if the Falcon Heavy explodes, he hopes it does so high enough above the ground to avoid damaging the historic launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.
Falcon Heavy is launching from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 39A, which was used for most of the Apollo missions to the moon.
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