SpaceX’s rocket soars in debut test launch from Florida
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Reuters
The world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, roared into space through clear blue skies on its debut test flight on Feb. 6 from a Florida launch site in another milestone for billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s private rocket service.
The 23-story-tall jumbo rocket, carrying a cherry red Tesla Roadster from the assembly line of Musk’s electric car company as a mock payload, thundered off its launchpad in billowing clouds of steam and rocket exhaust at 3:45 p.m. local time from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, where moon missions once began.
Within three minutes, the Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters separated from the central rocket in one of the most critical points of the flight.
Then, capitalizing on cost-cutting reusable rocket technology pioneered by SpaceX, the two boosters flew themselves back to Earth for safe simultaneous touchdowns on twin landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, about eight minutes after launch.
Each rocket unleashed a double sonic boom as it neared the landing zone.
The center booster rocket, which SpaceX had predicted was less likely to be salvaged, slammed into the Atlantic at about 483 kilometers per hour, showering the deck of the nearby drone landing vessel and destroying two of the ship’s thrusters, Musk told a post-launch news conference.
Still, the Silicon Valley mogul known for self-deprecating understatement hailed the launch as a victory and “a big relief.”
While the Falcon Heavy’s initial performance appeared, by all accounts, to have been near flawless, it remained to be seen whether the upper stage of the vehicle and its payload would survive a six-hour “cruise” phase to high Earth orbit through the planet’s radiation belts.
The successful liftoff was a key turning point for Musk’s privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, which stands to gain a new edge over the handful of rivals vying for lucrative contracts with NASA, satellite companies and the U.S. military.
Adding to the whimsy, SpaceX planted a space-suited mannequin in the driver’s seat of the convertible Tesla Roadster.
Musk mused that “it may be discovered by some future alien race.” The white spacesuit was real, he said.