The world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, blasted off at 3:45 PM local time at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on its highly anticipated maiden test flight.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is carrying CEO Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla roadster to an orbit near Mars. The 23-story tall Falcon Heavy was launched from the same site used by NASA’s towering Saturn 5 rockets to carry Apollo missions to the moon more than 40 years ago.
The two side-boosters successfully separated from the center main-stage rocket and flew back to Earth for safe simultaneous touchdowns on twin launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The center booster was expected for a return landing on a drone ship floating at sea, but its fate is not immediately known.The launch was delayed for more than two hours due to wind-shear conditions.
The successful test launch marked a key turning point in 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 US military.
The Tesla Roadster is supposed to be sent into a virtually indefinite solar orbit, on a path taking it as far from Earth as Mars. Adding to the whimsy, SpaceX has planted a space-suited mannequin in the driver’s seat of the convertible.
Propelled by 27 rocket engines, the Falcon Heavy packs more than 5 million pounds of thrust at launch, roughly three times the force of the Falcon 9 booster that until now has been the workhorse of the SpaceX fleet.
If the demonstration flight succeeds, Falcon Heavy will rank as the world’s most powerful existing rocket, with more lift capacity than any US space vehicle since the era of NASA’s Saturn 5 rockets that took astronauts to the moon some 45 years ago.