SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed Sunday night the delayed Falcon Heavy launch was still on schedule for Tuesday like he had announced a week earlier.

CEO Elon Musk announced SpaceX was making the most powerful rocket in a generation back in 2011.  After years of speculation and delays, the company’s Falcon Heavy is finally set to blast off on Tuesday.

Falcon Heavy would be the world’s most powerful rocket in operation if its launch is successful. Only two rockets in history — NASA’s Saturn V and the Soviet-era Russian-built Energia — were more powerful than the SpaceX rocket. Falcon Heavy successful launch will give NASA new options.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has expressed concern that the vehicle won’t make it to orbit on its first launch. If that happens, SpaceX will need to fly the Falcon Heavy a few more times until it’s deemed ready for commercial flight.

But if it does fly well, SpaceX will send a powerful message to the spaceflight world — and NASA may like what it sees.

Musk wrote last year,  “Destination is Mars orbit.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean Tuesday’s test flight will send the rocket to the Red Planet. It will spin around the Sun in the space between Earth and the Red Planet.

Thousands are expected to descend on the Space Coast for Tuesday’s inaugural SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch; crowding spots from beaches to arched causeways to witness the world’s most powerful rocket lift off from Kennedy Space Center.

“It will be a historic event, so we expect the community to fill up in terms of hotel rooms and any kind of lodging,” said Eric Garvey, the space coast office of Tourism’s Executive director. He estimates up to 100,000 people could visit for the three core rocket’s launch, but combining that with area residents could boost the number to half a million.

The Falcon Heavy’s specs are impressive. The three-core rocket boasts 27 engines, more than any other working rocket has used before. Together, these engines provide more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, allowing the vehicle to put more than 140,000 pounds of cargo into lower Earth orbit.

Musk has been talking about colonizing the red planet for years now, and Mars is where the controls of Falcon Heavy are set for. On its test flight, the only payload the rocket would carry is Musk’s own cherry-red Tesla Roadster, which would, rather appropriately, be playing the late David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

Shortly before he confirmed the Tuesday afternoon launch, Musk also shared some concept art on his Instagram page showing tourism on Mars, with faux posters — done retro-style — showing famous and picturesque spots on the red planet.

“It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen the enthusiasm and energy and the anticipation that the community is exhibiting,” said Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances at Space Florida.

Ketcham, however, said there’s one noticeable difference: interest from investors.

“Unlike in the past, so many of the people who are contacting Space Florida are people who have investors who want to come see this,” he said.

“Spaceflight is like dinosaurs – it brings out the kid in everybody again,” he said. “It’s just exciting to have that back. It’s been a long time.”

Directing credit to trump administration, NASA is now focused on returning humans to the Moon. The space agency has been developing its own massive rocket, the Space Launch System, which could be used for lunar missions.  SLS has strong support from key members of Congress, so NASA will likely continue to develop it.

Despite its power and price tag, the Falcon Heavy has just two more launches planned for 2018, with another set for next year. “When you’re talking about the differences in budgets, it’s phenomenal how less expensive Falcon Heavy is compared to a government rocket like SLS,” Laura Forczyk, a space consultant and owner of space research and consulting firm Astralytical.

It’s unlikely that the Falcon Heavy will replace the NASA rocket outright. But the Falcon Heavy could still perform other tasks for NASA, such as sending up pieces of the Deep Space Gateway or sending cargo to the lunar surface.

Budget Pricing

SpaceX is known for its budget pricing. One flight of the company’s Falcon 9 starts at just $62 million. That’s a fraction of the cost ULA’s comparable Atlas V rocket, flights of which start at $109 million. And the Falcon Heavy will be cheap, too, starting at around $90 million each flight.

Falcon Heavy measures 230 ft tall, which is the equivalent of 40 average U.S. men standing on each other’s shoulders. It measures 40 ft wide and has a mass of more than three million pounds.

The Falcon Heavy has an impressive payload capacity. It is designed to carry up to 140,000lbs into low Earth orbit, or 37,000lbs to Mars. That’s more than ten fully-grown African elephants into low Earth orbit and more than 35 grand pianos to Mars.

This time around, however, the craft will be loaded with Musk’s own cherry red Tesla Roadster sports car.

ELON MUSK SPORTS CAR
Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster sports car

Musk gave a whimsical reason for this very whimsical payload in response to comments on Twitter.

We know it’s massive and we know it has something to do with Mars.

A successful launch will represent a giant leap towards human spaceflight to Mars. And if it all goes wrong, Falcon Heavy – filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants – will at least make for one incredible explosion.

 

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