In Depth

Falcon Heavy: SpaceX test-fires its largest rocket yet

Elon Musk plans to send the craft on its maiden voyage ‘in a week or so’

SpaceX, the aerospace firm founded by Tesla chief Elon Musk, has finally test-fired the engines of its largest rocket yet, the Falcon Heavy. 

The company had been planning to fire the rocket’s 27 Merlin engines at the Kennedy Space Center last week, says Wired, but postponed the test following a recent government shutdown and a number of technical problems.  

Yesterday morning, however, SpaceX succeeded in carrying out the test on the Space Center’s 39A launch pad, which is reserved for the most powerful rocket firings, says the website. The same complex was used for launching Nasa’s Saturn V rocket for the Apollo moon missions. 

Musk later tweeted that test firing had been “good” and that a possible launch window will open “in a week or so”.

When that does happen, the Falcon Heavy will become the most powerful operational rocket in the world, according to BBC News

SpaceX has achieved this by strapping three boosters from its smaller Falcon 9 rocket together, the news site says. The company had to strengthen each booster to handle the extra power output. 

Like the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy is designed to be “partially reusable,” says The Verge. After the rocket’s launch, the three boosters will return to Earth so they can be used on future missions. 

SpaceX won’t send a satellite into space on the rocket’s first mission, the website says. Instead, Musk plans to launch his personal Tesla Roadster sports car in orbit around the Sun.  

If the launch is successful, SpaceX could use the Falcon Heavy to transport supplies to the surface of Mars. 

Falcon Heavy: SpaceX delays test launch of its largest rocket yet

17 January

SpaceX has postponed the engine fire up of its new Falcon Heavy rocket after failing to begin the test in the allotted time, reports Alphr.

The aerospace firm, headed by Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, had been scheduled to start the rocket’s 27 engines as part of a static test on Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the website says.

But a series of delays at the launchpad has pushed the rocket’s engine test to Friday at 3pm local time (8pm GMT).

The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in the aerospace firm's fleet, says Digital Trends. In power alone, the Heavy is beaten only by Nasa’s Saturn V craft that took astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 70s. 

The rocket is essentially three Falcon 9s, SpaceX’s smaller and most used spacecraft, fixed together with a single upper stage to carry payloads, the website says.

The company plans to use its pioneering rocket recycling process on the Falcon Heavy as well, the site adds. Shortly after the craft launches, the three booster rockets will land back on Earth so they can be used on future missions.

It’s not yet known when the rocket firm plans to send the Falcon Heavy into space, but Alphr says SpaceX hopes the craft is capable of completing the six-month journey to Mars.

When that time comes, says CNet, the company plans to carry a Tesla Roadster to the red planet, where it will remain in orbit.

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