Yesterday was a remarkable day. A midnight cherry red Tesla was launched into space and is heading to Mars. The Tesla roadsters unique journey is the outcome of an aggressive SpaceX development program and successful test launch on Tuesday February 6, 2018. Elon Musk and his development teams are continuing to just do it. The Falcon 9 Heavy launched on Tuesday is the next derivative in the SpaceX Falcon 9 program. The Falcon 9 Heavy builds on the previous Falcon 9 Medium launch vehicle success by adding two additional booster stages to the vehicle platform, increasing lift capability. The Falcon 9 heavy is now the highest thrust launch vehicle available in the world. The additional booster stages are the same booster engines used on the medium, except three are used, mounted side by side. This makes the overall design elegant and modular. There are a number of achievements associated with this launch.
- The first being the two outer boosters, shown above returning to their designated landing platforms, were recycled boosters previously flown on prior Falcon 9 medium missions. This provided further proof of the return and relaunch capabilities of the Falcon 9 booster. This recycling of booster engines will dramatically reduce launch costs as only fuel and interim flight refurbishment is needed.
- The next noteworthy, although partially successful, accomplishment was the attempt to return three boosters back from their mission instead of just one. The two outer boosters, shown above, landed successfully at Cape Canaveral Air Force station. The third center booster, which stayed with the spacecraft a bit longer in the mission and was detached from the vehicle last, missed its ocean based drone ship, shown below, target. The booster crashed into the ocean at 300 mph near the platform. The reason for the center boosters demise is thought to be two engine failures of three descent alignment and speed thrusters. Despite that partial mission failure, for a test flight, the overall result was quite remarkable.
- Number three on the noteworthy hit parade was this maiden voyage’s flight payload consisting of Elon Musk’s personal red Tesla Roadster. Also onboard, in the drivers seat, was Starman, a simulated passenger heading to Mars. Clearly SpaceX is filled with incredible talent who also have a huge sense of humor and fun. As a side note, I think it is also the first sports car launched into space.
- Fourth is something ground breaking and not talked about much. It represents the new trend in launch vehicle development. Specifically, there was no government funding involved, SpaceX payed for the development of these vehicles. I have read that SpaceX has spent about $1 billion on the program. If true, although a large number, it is substantially less than previously government funded companies have charged for their launch vehicle development efforts. SpaceX has created a new path for privately funded space programs. It’s amazing that not that long ago, when Elon Musk talked about his vision for SpaceX, pretty much everyone thought he was quite mad. Look who is smiling now, and Elon was very much smiling at the post launch press conference. It’s the happiest I have seen him in a very long time. He now knows he is the man. He is indeed becoming Ironman.
The full launch video from SpaceX can be found here on YouTube or by watching the embedded video below. The first few minutes are splash screen which you can skip, the program starts at minute 7:56 in the video. Enjoy! It really speaks for itself, what a blast to be on that team.