SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket — described as “the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two” — is in position on a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center, and the on-again off-again simultaneous test of all 27 engines is now planned for Monday.
“The hold-down firing of the Falcon Heavy’s 27 main engines at pad 39A is now expected no earlier than Monday. A fueling test is likely on tap for Saturday,” the latest update from Spaceflight Now reads.
The rocket has been in place at Pad 39A for several days, and the highly anticipated test marks the first time all the engines will be ignited at once. Should the test proceed smoothly, we could be just weeks away from witnessing the Falcon Heavy set off on its maiden mission all the way to Mars.
We’ll continue to update this article as information rolls in; you can follow along at Spaceflight Now for immediate information and subscribers can watch a live video feed of the test itself.
Powerful rocket system
The Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 rockets with a single upper stage. In terms of power, it is beaten only by the Saturn V rocket that once took astronauts to the moon. Incorporating SpaceX’s tried-and-tested reusable rocket system, the Falcon Heavy’s various separation processes are designed to take place soon after launch, with all three boosters landing back on Earth.
But SpaceX CEO Elon Musk knows that if a test proves successful, the debut mission that would follow soon after still represents a monumental challenge. He noted last year that there’s “a real good chance” the unmanned Falcon Heavy won’t even make it into orbit.
If all does go to plan, the rocket will be taking Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster all the way to the red planet, where the CEO claims it could remain in orbit for a billion years. Musk earlier said he wanted to send “the silliest thing we can imagine,” adding that he loved the thought of a car “drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.”
‘Beast’ of a rocket
Considering the size and power of the Falcon Heavy, it’s little surprise that Musk himself describes it as a “beast.” The first stage of the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket comprises “three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft,” SpaceX says on its website.
In summer 2017, Musk teased the launch of the Falcon Heavy in an animation posted on Instagram, though at that time SpaceX had been hoping to launch the rocket a couple of months later. With so much at stake, however, it’s little surprise that preparations are stretching out.
A lot depends on how the all-important engine test goes. SpaceX doesn’t look as if it’ll be live-streaming the event, though you can watch it at Spaceflight Now with a subscription.
Update: Added information about the testing being scheduled no earlier than Monday, January 22.