SpaceX To Launch Tesla Roadster In Mars Orbit (Really)
If the universe lacks for not having a midnight-red Tesla Roadster orbiting Mars, SpaceX is about to set things right. This week the company assembled its massive Falcon Heavy booster on Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for what's planned to be the first launch of the most powerful booster since the Saturn 5 moon missions launched from the same pad. The company did a successful engine test Wednesday. The planned payload? Elon Musk's personal Tesla Roadster. (Used.)
The much-delayed Falcon heavy is essentially a modified Falcon 9 core booster with two strap-on Falcon 9s attached. It's capable of a little over 5 million pounds of thrust, powered by 27 Merlin 1D engines that SpaceX developed for its launch business. The booster was originally scheduled to fly in 2014, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk admitted the company had a naive understanding of the flight dynamics of strap-on systems. It took another three years to sort things out and the company is hoping for a test flight later this year.
Musk has taken pains to reduce expectations. He said last July that there's “a real good chance that that vehicle does not make it to orbit. I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest.”
As for the roadster payload, many initial launch tests boost dead weight in the form of concrete ballast, but ever the iconoclast, Musk decided a car would be fun. "Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent," he tweeted recently. "I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future."