SpaceX has successfully launched its new Falcon Heavy spacecraft, as questions lingered about the rocket’s centre core, which crashed into the ocean after re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Tuesday’s launch took place at NASA‘s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in the US state of Florida, the spot also used for the Apollo 11 moon mission and several space shuttle launches.
Falcon Heavy carried a car – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster – as a mock payload, along with a mannequin in a spacesuit and a playlist consisting of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Originally, SpaceX had planned to direct the car into the orbit of Mars, but the company’s latest estimates indicate it will overshoot the red planet and continue into the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Minutes after takeoff, the two outer boosters landed at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
A third booster, or the centre core of the rocket, was supposed to land on a floating barge in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but that did not go as planned.
If we got the footage ... that sounds like some pretty fun footage, if the cameras didn't get blown up as well, then we'll put that up ... for - you know - just the blooper reel.
Speaking at a news conference after the launch, Musk said the centre core of the rocket was lost after it smashed into the ocean near the landing pad.
“The centre core hit water at 300 miles per hour (482km/h) and took out two of the engines of the drone ship,” Musk said.
“If we got the footage … that sounds like some pretty fun footage if the cameras didn’t get blown up as well, then we’ll put that up … for – you know – just the blooper reel,” he said.
Falcon Heavy side cores have landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2. pic.twitter.com/oMBqizqnpI
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 6, 2018
“The rocket landed about 100 metres away from the landing pad, which was enough to take out two thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel,” Musk added.
Falcon Heavy is the largest rocket since NASA’s Saturn V booster, which was used for the Moon missions in the 1970s.
It generated about five million pounds of thrust (22.2 million newtons) during its takeoff, which, according to SpaceX, is equal to about 18 Boeing 747 aeroplanes.
“Falcon Heavy can launch about 64 tonnes into low Earth orbit, now that’s almost a factor three more than the current-running biggest launch vehicle, Delta IV Heavy,” astrophysicist David Clements from Imperial College told Al Jazeera.
SpaceX was the first company to successfully launch and land a booster rocket – the Falcon 9 – that was sent into space.
That rocket is now being used to bring satellites into orbit and resupply the International Space Station.
View from SpaceX Launch Control. Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth. pic.twitter.com/QljN2VnL1O
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 6, 2018
The landing capability of Falcon 9 allows for quick reuse of the boosters, which has led to lower costs and less time between launches.
However, with its more powerful rockets, Falcon Heavy is expected to be the first step to future missions to the Moon and even Mars.