So it’s no surprise this thing is enormous. The photos Musk recently tweeted show the superpowered rocket looking almost impatient for liftoff:
Falcon Heavy almost makes Falcon 9 look like one of those model rockets you might have launched out of your backyard as a kid. It’s pretty much Falcon 9 on steroids, with triple the engines (that’s 27 engines igniting simultaneously) and triple the first-stage boosters connected in the middle by a second-stage Merlin engine. As Musk tweeted, it will also have “double the thrust of the next largest rocket” meaning max thrust at 5.1 million pounds. If the 9 had enough brawn to tons of cargo to the International Space Station, you can only imagine what the Falcon Heavy can take on—but it will begin with Musk’s own Tesla Roadster playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
There’s a reason Musk will be putting his own car on board. The massive rocket could blow up.
This shouldn’t really be a shock when you realize that rockets are essentially giant metal capsules full of explosive chemicals. It wouldn’t be the first launch fail for Musk, but or for any immense vehicle being shot into space with an insane amount of fuel.
At the International Space Station conference this summer, Musk explained that such a machine is almost impossible to test on the ground. You can fire the engines and boosters to an extent on terra firma, and you can even simulate the dynamics of 27 engines roaring at once as well as the air flow and effects of heavy transsonic buffet, but the risk involved with launching it past the stratosphere is still astronomical.
“There’s a real good chance that vehicle does not make it to orbit,” he said at the conference. “When I make sure to set expectations accordingly, I hope it makes a path far enough away from the pad so it does not cause pad damage; I’d consider even that a win, to be honest.”
Cue nervous laughter from the audience.
In case you thought Musk was trolling when he said he would risk his car ending up as a pile of junk metal, his Instagram proves he’s serious:
That really is the payload fairing, just wider than the shuttle bay at 43 feet high by 17 feet wide. No one is going to judge you if your eyeballs roll onto your keyboard right about now.
Obviously, Musk would rather see his car enter an elliptical orbit around the sun, reaching as far as that of Mars, instead of dying a fiery death. Here’s where he thinks it will ultimately end up if it manages to survive the chemical blast that sends it out of our atmosphere:
If the rocket makes it back to the home planet in one piece, the $90 million projectile can be expected to jet up to 140,660 pounds of payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO), 58,860 to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) 37,040 to his dream colony on Mars someday, and 7,720 pounds to Pluto, because the ex-planet is a creepy cosmic enigma that could even be hiding a subterranean ocean.
Whether this ends up as a legendary launch or an epic explosion, Musk is sure of one thing: it’s “Guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another.”