In Brief

Falcon Heavy: Elon Musk successfully launches largest rocket to date

The vehicle was carrying an unusual payload

Elon Musk’s aerospace firm SpaceX has successfully launched its new Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

The Falcon Heavy is the world’s largest rocket and is the most powerful vehicle of its kind since Nasa’s space shuttle programme, according to BBC News

The rocket “is essentially three of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 vehicles strapped together” and is capable of lifting a payload weighing 64 tonnes, the news site says. 

Shortly after take-off, all three booster stages returned to the Earth’s surface. Although one was destroyed during landing, the other two will be used again for future missions. 

Unlike SpaceX’s recent launches, which have delivered US government satellites into Earth’s orbit, the Falcon Heavy’s payload was Musk’s red Roadster sports car, made by his Tesla company, with a mannequin behind the wheel. 

The aerospace firm planned to launch the car into orbit around Mars, The Verge says, but the rocket “seems to have overshot that trajectory” and has put the Roadster on course for the asteroid belt between the red planet and Jupiter. 

Although it is “unclear” where the car will end up, the website says, the unusual payload “demonstrates the Falcon Heavy’s capabilities of putting objects into deep space”.

Musk said he hopes the mission will also encourage other companies to build rockets in a bid to bring down the costs of space travel, Business Insider reports.  

Speaking at a press conference, the South African-born billionaire said: “I think it’s going to encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights and say, ‘We can do bigger and better’, which is great.”

“We want a new space race. Space races are exciting,” he added.

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