Falcon Heavy test flight
The Falcon Heavy test flight (officially Falcon Heavy demonstration mission) was the first attempt by SpaceX to launch a Falcon Heavy rocket, on 6 February 2018 at 20:45 UTC. The launch introduced the Falcon Heavy as the most powerful rocket currently in operation, producing five million pounds-force (22 MN) of thrust and having more than twice the lift capacity of the NASA Space Shuttle launch system.
|Configuration||Falcon Heavy R|
|Date||20:45:00, 6 February 2018|
|Window||2 hours 30 minutes|
|Site||Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S.|
|Pad||Launch Complex 39|
|Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster|
|Regime||pseudo-Mars transfer orbit|
|Wikinews has related news: SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket blasts Elon Musk's personal Tesla into solar orbit|
The dummy payload for this test flight was a sports car owned by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, a midnight cherry, first generation TeslaRoadster. SpaceX stated that the payload had to be "something fun and without irreplaceable sentimental value". Sitting in the driver's seat of the Roadster is "Starman", a dummy astronaut clad in a SpaceX spacesuit. He has his right hand on the steering wheel and left elbow resting on the open window sill. Starman is named for the David Bowie song "Starman". The car's sound system was looping the symbolic Bowie songs "Space Oddity" and "Life on Mars?".
It was launched with sufficient velocity to escape the Earth and enter an elliptic orbit around the Sun that crosses the orbit of Mars, reaching an aphelion (maximum distance from the Sun) of 1.67 AU. During the early portion of its voyage it functioned as a broadcast device, sending live video back to Earth for four hours. The Roadster remains attached to the second stage.
This launcher demonstration made the Roadster the first consumer car sent into space. Three manned rovers were sent to space on the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions in the 1970s and these vehicles were left on the Moon. The Roadster is one of two formerly manned vehicles (albeit not a manned space vehicle) derelict in solar orbit, joining LM-4 Snoopy, Apollo 10's lunar module ascent stage.
The Falcon Heavy maiden flight was intended to accomplish several objectives:
- launch the Falcon Heavy from the pad through the atmosphere, including Max Q flight phase;
- separate the side booster cores from the continuing first stage center core and upper stage
- return the two side boosters to Cape Canaveral and land them simultaneously at Landing Zones 1 and 2
- separate the center core and light the upper stage to orbit insertion
- land the central first stage booster core on an autonomous spaceport drone ship, the Of Course I Still Love You, in the Atlantic Ocean
- relight the upper stage to orbit in the van Allen belts for several hours to show radiation resistance
- relight the upper stage again to put the payload into its heliocentric orbit, demonstrating a lifetime for the upper stage suitable for geosynchronous orbit insertion.
The rocket used first stage Falcon 9 rockets for its three booster cores and a Falcon 9 upper stage. The purpose of including the Roadster on the maiden flight was to demonstrate that the Falcon Heavy can launch payloads as far as the orbit of Mars, and it exceeded its projected route by extending its aphelion to near the asteroid belt beyond Mars (with a perihelion at the level of Earth's orbit).
The launch occurred at 3:45 PM EST, or 20:45 UTC, from Launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida; the Roadster was successfully placed in its orbit, and its two booster cores returned to land at Landing Zones 1 and 2 several minutes later. The sole objective not completed was the landing of the central core; while its fate was initially ambiguous due to signal loss and heavy smoke, Musk confirmed several hours after the launch that the booster had not survived the recovery attempt. Because two of the three engines necessary to land were unable to reignite, the booster hit the water at 500 kilometres per hour, 100 metres away from the drone ship. The final upper stage transfer burn to solar orbit produced an orbit that will be beyond the orbit of Mars at its furthest point from the sun.
The planned mission timeline is (all times approximate):
|T-01:28:00||Go/no go for propellant load|
|T-01:25:00||Kerosene loading underway|
|T-00:45:00||Liquid oxygen loading underway|
|T-00:07:00||Start of engine chill|
|T-00:01:00||Start of pre-launch checks|
|T-00:01:00||Propellant tank flight pressurisation|
|T-00:00:45||Go/no go for launch|
|T-00:00:05||Start of side booster engine ignition sequence|
|T-00:00:03||Start of center core boosters engines ignition sequence|
|T+00:01:06||Max Q (maximum aerodynamic pressure)|
|T+00:02:29||Boosters engines cutoff (BECO)|
|T+00:02:33||Side boosters separate from center core|
|T+00:02:50||Side boosters begin boostback burn|
|T+00:03:04||Center core engine shutdown/main engine cutoff (MECO)|
|T+00:03:07||Center core and 2nd stage separate|
|T+00:03:15||2nd stage engine starts|
|T+00:03:24||Center core begins boostback burn|
|T+00:06:41||Side cores begin entry burn|
|T+00:06:47||Center core begins entry burn|
|T+00:07:58||Side cores landings|
|T+00:08:19||Center core landing|
|T+00:08:31||2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)|
|T+00:28:22||2nd stage engine restarts|
|T+00:28:52||2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)|
|Test continued on an experimental 6h-long coast in Earth orbit through the Van Allen radiation belts, followed by two burns by the third stage to target a precessing elliptical orbit around the Sun.|
Valuable telemetry data on the performance of the launch system and its components were obtained for all stages of the test flight.
The dummy payload was placed in a heliocentric orbit, with an aphelion of 1.70 AU, beyond Mars. The payload has an orbital period of 1.53 years. The first four hours of the flight were livestreamed on YouTube.
- Central core
The central core attempted to return to the autonomous spaceport drone shipOf Course I Still Love You but failed to light two of the three engines during the landing burn. The core crashed into the ocean 100 metres (300 ft) away from the drone ship at 500 kilometres per hour (300 mph), causing damage to two of the drone ship's station-keeping thrusters. According to Elon Musk on the post-flight conference, the center core ran out of triethylaluminum-triethylborane (TEA-TEB) igniter fluid.
Congratulations @ElonMusk and @SpaceX on the successful #FalconHeavy launch. This achievement, along with @NASA’s commercial and international partners, continues to show American ingenuity at its best!