See the huge rocket set to launch Elon Musk’s Tesla to Mars – CNET

heavy

A look at the bottom of the Falcon Heavy rocket and its 27 Merlin engines in a hangar at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral facility.

SpaceX

Elon Musk offered a first glimpse Wednesday at the rocket that will launch SpaceX into the heavyweight class of spaceflight in 2018. The CEO of the commercial rocket company and founder of Tesla tweeted photos of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in a hangar in Florida where it’s being readied for its maiden launch in January.

“Falcon Heavy launching from same @NASA pad as the Saturn V Apollo 11 moon rocket,” Musk wrote

After years of delays, the powerful new rocket — which is essentially three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together with a second stage added to the top of the center rocket — is ready for primetime. It will carry a rather unusual payload for its demonstration launch. 

“Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing ‘Space Oddity,'” reads the Dec. 2 tweet.

Falcon Heavy is built to lift much more than just one Tesla out of the grasp of Earth’s gravity: its 27 Merlin engines can generate over 5 million pounds of thrust capable of sending a fully loaded 737 jetliner into orbit, according to the company. That much power easily makes it the most powerful rocket in operation today, rivaling the capabilities of the huge Saturn V rocket that sent astronauts to the moon and would later inspire a young Elon Musk.

“(Saturn V) was 50% higher thrust (than Falcon Heavy) with five F-1 engines at 7.5M lb-F,” Musk wrote. “I love that rocket so much.” 

Musk says the first Falcon Heavy mission, which apparently really is meant to project his Tesla toward Mars, will see the rocket running at about 92 percent of its full capability. If all goes well, it will be followed by the spectacle of attempting to land all three Falcon rocket cores in the same way the company has been using to recover its Falcon 9 first stages. 

No specific date in January has been set yet for the first launch, but SpaceX is already planning to launch three commercial satellites and one US Air Force payload using Falcon Heavy, according to its launch manifest.

Unless the first launch and his Tesla Roadster “blow up on ascent,” as Musk himself puts it, likely leading to more delays.

But if Falcon Heavy gets off the ground, it’s an important step toward greater SpaceX ambitions: the successor rocket to Heavy will be the so-called “B.F.R.” that Musk hopes will send humans to Mars in coming decades.

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