Elon Musk gave space fans an early Christmas gift yesterday, when he tweeted some images of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket ahead of its planned launch in January 2018.
It was a brief but no less exciting tweet, taken at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Here, Falcon Heavy will take flight next month, from the historic launch pad that once took Apollo astronauts to the Moon on the Saturn V rocket.
Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket currently in operation, almost twice its nearest competitor – the Delta IV Heavy. The Saturn V will remain the top dog, however, with twice the thrust of the Falcon Heavy.
But the launch next month is garnering all sorts of excitement, not least because on this inaugural flight, the cargo will be Musk’s own Tesla Roadster car. This will be sent to the orbit of Mars, left to drift through the Solar System for eternity.
That’s if the launch is successful, as Musk has repeatedly said this first launch has a good chance of failure – hence why there’s a “joke” payload on board. If it does go smoothly, SpaceX will then attempt to land all of the boosters of the rocket, two on land at Cape Canaveral and one on a drone ship.
Falcon Heavy is basically three Falcon 9 core boosters strapped together. Its significantly increased thrust means it could be used to launch deep space missions and much heavier satellites into orbit. Musk has also earmarked using Falcon Heavy to launch two space tourists around the Moon.
This caps a pretty exciting 2017 for SpaceX. The company has launched twice as many rockets as it has done in one year before, and it's performed numerous landings too. Just the other day it launched its 13th cargo mission to the ISS for NASA.
But it’s the Falcon Heavy launch that space enthusiasts have waited years for, with numerous delays so far. As always with these sorts of things, there’s a decent chance it’ll be delayed again next month (there are signs the launch date has already slipped).
When it does eventually take flight, though, it’ll be a sight to behold. If you’re anywhere near Florida in January 2018, you might want to find a spare day or two to try and catch history being made.