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SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy rocket stands poised for launch on Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
As we expect to see Elon Musk’s SpaceX First Falcon Heavy rocket launch today (6/2/18) it has a short window of opportunity to be able to take off and fly to mars today. With the fuel lines in and 3 falcon 9 rockets poised for launch it has an unexpected cargo, SpaceX’s Tesla Roadster and space-suited mannequin driver which will be sent to orbit Mars. The rocket boosters on the sides of the main central rocket will be released after being propelled into space, these will descend to the Earth’s surface and land on landing pads, ready to be used again in a controlled way – we hope!
Space X will also make history by launching the world’s fourth electric car into space, the commercial spaceflight company has been working on this for years, it weighs over half a million
kilograms and according to SpaceX when it lifts off, it will be “the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two.”
This huge rocket has needed to be strengthened to be able to cope with its 27 engines all firing off. Even though the Falcon Heavy is based on the design of the tested and proven Falcon 9, it has a configuration that is new to spaceflight and so carries new risks. The rocket's 27 Merlin engines must fire in unison and the two side mounted boosters need to separate from the core, something of which SpaceX has never completed in space before. In a press call on the 5th of Feb, Elon Musk SpaceX's CEO and chief designer said:
"Going through the sound barrier, you get supersonic shockwaves. You could have some shockwave impingement, or where two shockwaves interact and amplify the effect, that could cause a failure as it goes transonic, Then around Max-Q, which is maximum dynamic air pressure — that is when the force on the rocket is the greatest — and that's possibly where it could fail as well."
"We're worried about ice potentially falling off the upper stage onto the nose cones of the side boosters," Elon continued to say.
"That would be like a cannon ball coming through the nose cone. And then the separation system has not been tested in flight. We have tested everything that we could think of for the separation of those side boosters on the ground, but this is the first time it has to operate in flight."
Here at SpaceTimesUK we wish SpaceX and the Falcon Heavy rocket great success in launch and spaceflight, now or at a postponed occasion and we are very excited about the future possibilities this rocket science can provide for human spaceflight, commercially and private. It is not a sure thing however and so placing an expensive satellite or some other operational payload on board wasn't approved – just in case. Test flights usually carry a mass simulator like concrete of steel blocks, to Elon however, tweeting in December:
“That seemed extremely boring,"
"We decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel,”
"The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing [the song] 'Space Oddity,' on a billion-year elliptic Mars orbit." This is actually Elon Musk’s own personal “midnight cherry” roadster.
The car is mounted on top of the Falcon Heavy's second stage so that its front is higher than its rear. The second stage will have a single Merlin engine that will fire three times, first to place the car into space, then to show how the Heavy rocket has the ability to insert satellites directly into geosynchronous Earth orbit and finally, if all goes to plan, to thrust the Roadster into deep space and orbit Mars. Between rocket burns 2 and 3 the Roadster will coast for six hours, passing through the Van Allen belts which is a concentrated region of radiation surrounding Earth, this will form a part of an experiment, musk said,
"We're going to be testing something on this flight which we've never done before, a six hour coast in deep space that's going to go through the Van Allen belts, so, it is going to get whacked pretty hard." As an engineer Elon continued his thoughts on issues arising,
"The fuel [for the second stage] could freeze and the oxygen [for the engine] could vaporize, all of which could inhibit the third burn which is necessary for trans-Mars injection,"
If it gets through this stage of the “grand tour” and is able to fire successfully its engines for a third time, the roadster will leave Earth and head to Mars.
"It will go out to Mars orbit," Musk said, "about 400 million kilometres from Earth, about 250 to 270 million miles, and be doing 11 kilometres per second." Which equates to 7 miles a second!
"It is going to be in a precessing elliptical orbit, with one part of the ellipse being in Earth orbit and the other part being in Mars orbit. So essentially, it will be an Earth-Mars cycler and we estimate it will be in that orbit for several million years, maybe in excess of a billion years, and at times it will come extremely close to Mars and there is a tiny, tiny chance it will hit Mars," although this risk is "extremely tiny."
With less than an hour to go, we would like to wish SpaceX and Elon Musk good luck in this test flight from us at National Space Times UK.
- by Blake Hopley - Director and
Credits: SpaceX, Elon Musk