Musk said he was feeling “quite giddy and happy” as the launch approached. “Normally I feel super stressed out but this time I don’t,” he said. “It might be a bad sign.”
He has made no secret of how risky this launch will be. He said there was a roughly 50-50 chance of it actually working, with a decent chance the rocket might explode – although it’s hoped the rocket will at least have cleared the pad by then if the worst happens. It could take between eight and 12 months to fix the pad if it’s severely damaged.
One of the big unknowns is the separation of the boosters from the core of the rocket itself. SpaceX has not been able to test this on the ground at all, so we’ll have to wait and see how that goes.
The upper stage of the rocket, meanwhile, will not return safely to Earth. It will carry the Tesla Roadster for six hours through the Van Allen radiation belts that surround Earth, where Musk said the car is “going to get whacked pretty hard”. He noted the Tesla might not make it out of Earth orbit, as the fuel could freeze on board the upper stage (the car doesn’t have its own propulsion).
If it does make it past the belts, the car will then be placed into a heliocentric orbit (one around the Sun), extending beyond the orbital plane of Mars. Musk said it would be in that orbit for several hundred million years, “maybe in excess of a billion years”.
“At times it will come extremely close to Mars,” he noted. “There’s a tiny, tiny chance it will hit Mars. Extremely tiny. I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
There will be three cameras on board the car, sending images back to Earth as it makes its way into space. Some sensors are also on the upper stage, but Musk said the “fun stuff” was the cameras. “Will provide some epic views if everything goes well,” he said.
Musk noted that with a $90 million launch price, Falcon Heavy could far undercut their competitors, and offer a service for governments or commercial companies to reach geostationary orbit with ease. That may be one of its key selling points, alongside possible science missions to deep space destinations.
“If we’re successful in this it is game over for all other heavy-lift rockets,” he said. “It’s like trying to sell an aircraft where one is reusable, and the others are single use.” He also said, if they wanted to, they could add two extra boosters to the rocket and make a “Falcon Super Heavy”.
Provided everything goes okay, SpaceX hope to be able to launch their first commercial Falcon Heavy mission – a large communications satellite for Arabsat from Saudi Arabia – in three to six months. If the launch doesn’t go to plan, well, there will probably be some delays.
“It will be a real huge downer if it blows up,” Musk said. “But hopefully, if it goes wrong far into the mission, we can at least learn as much as possible along the way.”
“It’s guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another,” Musk added. “Either an exciting success or an exciting failure. One big boom. Tune in, it’s gonna be worth your time.”