Kshitij PujariFeb 06, 2018 13:32:12 IST
Some are calling it the most important rocket launch of this millennium and perhaps they are not wrong. The tumultuous journey of SpaceX began as a distant dream for cost-efficient methods of travelling to space in 2002. Fast forward to more than 15 years, the fledgeling startup is now at the forefront of space exploration and giving neck-to-neck competition to the behemoths in the space industry like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Back in 2001 visionary and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk had conceptualised the idea of a 'Mars Oasis', wherein the plan was to land a miniature experimental greenhouse, which contained seeds with dehydrated gel, so as to grow plants on the Martian soil. As great as it sounded on paper, it was not going to be easy to undertake this project.
17 years later, the day has finally arrived when a revolutionary rocket will be put to the test and perhaps bring Musk's ambition of inter-planetary travel closer to reality.
The Falcon Heavy was initially planned for a launch way back in 2011, but due to several logistical and technical issues, the launch plans were delayed innumerable times. Until now, the Falcon Heavy has completed a successful static fire test at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in January. The successful static test fire on the Falcon Heavy saw all of its engines fired up for 12 seconds.
Clearly, the Falcon Heavy is no ordinary rocket. It is essentially made up of three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together to provide one super-rocket with incredible thrust force. The rocket uses a total of 27 Merlin engines to generate a thrust of more than 5 million pounds. Just to put some perspective on this, that is enough force to put up to 64,000 kg or a Boeing 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel, into Earth's orbit.
Moreover, the rocket is actually capable of carrying up to 7,700 pounds (3,500 kg) to the distant planet of Pluto at the edge of the solar system. The last rocket to exceed this amount of payload was the Saturn V rocket which put humans on the moon back in 1973.
Currently, the next most powerful rocket happens to be United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy and it can only put up to half of the payload into Earth's orbit as compared to the Falcon Heavy.
This is not the only reason why Falcon Heavy can be considered a game changer. As per SpaceX, the Falcon Heavy can put cargo into the low-Earth Orbit for just $2,200 per kg and the starting price for a single launch is $90 million. In comparison, the Delta IV Heavy charges up to $350 million per launch, according to a report by The Verge.
Along with this, the Falcon Heavy is designed for reusability thereby making manufacturing costs effectively zero. The huge amount of money required for launches is one of the biggest barriers for space explorations to distant planets, but with the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX could disrupt the segment of space travel.
So what is the Falcon Heavy going to do?
Quite simply put, the entire purpose of the launch is to place a 2008 Cherry Red Tesla Roadster into Martian orbit for a billion years, while the song Starman by David Bowie is being played on a loop. Talk about theatrical.
In reality, The Verge reports that the car, which will also be carrying a dummy called as the 'Starman', would actually be placed in the Hohmann transfer orbit around the Sun which will put the car as far out from the Sun as is the distance of Mars' orbit. This way the car will avoid the likelihood of crashing into Mars and contaminating the surface with microbes from Earth.
The general plan surrounding the launch is that SpaceX will try to land at least two booster rockets back to Cape Canaveral on its concrete landing zone. The third booster will be directed to land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship. If successful, though the chances are 50-50, these rockets can then be assembled again for future launch missions.
Now Elon Musk has jokingly claimed that there is a high chance that the rockets could blow up mid-way or at the very beginning of the launch. However, if this does happen it would seriously jeopardise the reputation of SpaceX as the pioneer in future space missions. Additionally, if the rocket blows up on the launch site, it would make the place unusable for scheduling future launches of the Falcon Heavy. This is mostly due to the fact that the current launch pad at LC-39A is the only one capable of hosting the Falcon Heavy.
All systems remain green for launch at 1:30pm EST tomorrow
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 5, 2018
The launch will take place between 1:30 PM and 4:00 PM ET on Tuesday afternoon which is around 12:00 AM to 2:30 AM on Wednesday morning as per IST. SpaceX will be live streaming the entire launch from their website and YouTube.
However, there are a few factors at play such as the wind speed and weather conditions which could delay the launch. Also, this being the first launch of the Falcon Heavy, it wouldn't be surprising to see some technical difficulties pushing the launch ahead by a maybe a few days or so.
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy. SpaceX
Even then, we should consider ourselves as extremely lucky that such an exciting endeavour has finally gotten the green light.
We will be bringing all the details on the Falcon Heavy Launch on our site, so stay tuned.
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