SpaceX made history early this morning, when it launched the biggest, the most powerful rocket ever from a NASA facility in Florida, only to then fly back sections of the vehicle and land them once more. Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan.
Images courtesy: SpaceX
SpaceX launched the gigantic Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral at 2:15 am (IST) on Wednesday, with a Tesla Roadster and a dummy on board. About two and a half minutes after liftoff, the two outer boosters separated from the main vehicle and made their descent to Earth.
The boosters then touched down simultaneously on two separate landing pads at the site. Three minutes later, the rocket’s central core broke away as well, leaving the top section of the rocket to carry the payload into orbit. This central section was expected to land on SpaceX’s drone ship, but a malfunction made it unable to relight two of the three engines it needed to slow its descent and land. As a result, the booster crashed into the water at about 480 km/h, around 300 feet from the ship, destroying the central core as well as two of the drone’s engines.
“It was enough to take out two thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said at a press conference later
But that’s just a tiny blot on what was other a massively successful launch for the company. The upper stage of the rocket is fine, having successfully put a car into orbit for the first time in human history.
View from SpaceX Launch Control. Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth. pic.twitter.com/QljN2VnL1O
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 6, 2018
After spending a few hours circling the Earth, the upper stage stage successfully made its third and final burn, pushing the vehicle even beyond the originally intended orbit of Mars, all the way out to the asteroid belt.
Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt. pic.twitter.com/bKhRN73WHF
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 7, 2018
How will this impact the future of space
It’s a huge day for space travel, about as big as the first time we got to the Moon. Sure, SpaceX isn’t really going anywhere new, but it’s how they’re doing it that’s important. The Falcon Heavy costs a fraction of what the next heaviest rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, does. On top of that, being able to land and reuse rocket boosters is much more economical, meaning space missions can happen much more frequently.
This will no doubt have a positive impact in launching larger, even heavier payloads in space — big positive indicators to commercialization of space. Space hotels, space tourism, setting up a base on the moon, mining space for minerals, taking bigger strides towards Mars colonization.
With SpaceX having blazed the trail, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and other private space entrepreneurs, will try to outmatch Elon Musk’s achievements to make the space dream even more accessible and affordable. All of this possible through the launch of one insane rocket.
SpaceX may well and truly have just completely changed the space game.