If you thought the Superbowl was a big deal, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Tomorrow, the world will be gripped by the biggest rocket to launch in more than a generation – and despite some teething issues, it heralds a bright and exciting future in spaceflight.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 1.30pm EST (6.30pm GMT) at the earliest tomorrow, February 6. The rocket will have a 2.5-hour launch window, with a backup launch date scheduled for February 7.
Inside the rocket will be CEO Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster car blaring out David Bowie's Space Oddity, being sent beyond the orbital plane of Mars.
Falcon Heavy will be the biggest rocket to launch (in terms of payload it can lift) since the final launch of the Saturn V rocket in 1973. Capable of taking 64,000 kilograms (140,000 pounds) of cargo to orbit, more than twice its nearest competitor – the Delta IV Heavy – at one quarter the cost, it is being billed as a historic moment in commercial spaceflight.
There’s a decent chance the rocket’s inaugural launch will be delayed beyond those dates, owing to its complexity and importance. At the moment, though, weather conditions look pretty good, and the rocket passed a routine static fire test with flying colors.
Whether it attempts to fly this week or later, this is a launch that has been anticipated in the space community for years. Falcon Heavy was first unveiled back in April 2011 by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to just a handful of reporters, with an anticipated first launch in 2013. After five years of delays, a crowd of half a million – and many more online around the world – are expected in Florida for the launch.
When it was first announced, that huge lifting capability coupled with the low cost had a lot of people excited. Since then, the rocket has lost a bit of its appeal, with just four upcoming launches scheduled.
“Less than two years ago, internal company documents projected a total of as many as 17 Falcon Heavy launches from 2017 to the end of 2019,” notes the Wall Street Journal.