The imaginations of millions were ignited Tuesday afternoon when three columns of fire generated by SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket helped propel a Tesla sports car to orbit and bolstered interest in a new space race — and that was just the test.
Thousands traveled to Florida’s Space Coast to witness the demonstration flight from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A, jamming roads for hours after liftoff of the world’s most powerful rocket. Hundreds of media representatives reported on the event, one of the biggest turnouts since the last space shuttle launch in July 2011 and NASA’s Orion capsule flight test in December 2014.
Their visit was further rewarded eight minutes after liftoff when two of the rocket’s side cores performed a tandem landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and generated back-to-back sonic booms during the descents.
In the driver’s seat of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster, meanwhile, a mannequin named “Starman” hurtled away from Earth at nearly 7 miles a second – certainly a speed record of some kind for a car. Musk would later confirm that it survived its trip through Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt and was on its way to an orbit beyond that of Mars and into the asteroid belt.
“I think it’s going to encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights,” Musk said during a post-launch news conference at Kennedy Space Center. “We want a new space race.
“Space races are exciting,” he said with a chuckle.
A few miles away at the space center’s Exploration Park, a brand new rocket factory bankrolled by another billionaire is set to push the boundaries of that space race
“Best of luck SpaceX with the Falcon Heavy launch tomorrow,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said via Twitter prior to liftoff. “Hoping for a beautiful, nominal flight!”
Musk’s reply: “Thanks,” followed by a kissing face emoji, or cartoon face.
Bezos’ private rocketry company is designing and manufacturing 270- and 313-foot variants of the company’s planned New Glenn rockets, which will launch no sooner than 2020.
He wasn’t the only space industry heavy-hitter to take to Twitter: United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno also congratulated SpaceX on the achievement. His company, based in Colorado, builds and launches Atlas V, Delta IV and Delta IV Heavy rockets.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk says he’s “very proud” of their latest launch of the Falcon Heavy. The rocket lifted a $100,000 Tesla Roadster into Space with a mannequin named “Starman” in the driver’s seat. USA TODAY
With a mostly successful first flight out of the way (minus losing the center core during an attempted landing on a drone ship), Falcon Heavy is likely a few months away from launching on its first contracted missions, according to Musk. The company has obtained contracts from the Air Force, Arabsat and ViaSat to launch payloads to orbit.
But the launch vehicle isn’t just limited just to commercial or military payloads.
“Falcon Heavy opens up a new class of payload,” Musk said Tuesday. “It can launch things direct to Pluto and beyond, no stop needed. You don’t even need a gravity assist or anything.”
“It can do anything you want,” he said.