In February of this year history was made when Elon Musk’s Space X company launched it’s Falcon Heavy rocket into orbit. While NASA has been doing stuff like that for decades, it was the first partially reusable rocket of it’s size to successfully launch itself and while part of it’s boosters missed it’s mark after the flight it was otherwise a gigantic success for the company that hopes to lower the cost of space flight and also send people to Mars sooner rather than later. SpaceX is one of the companies helmed by Tesla’s Elon Musk and is a leading company in the newer industry that private space travel, which has been an industry dominated by government institutions mainly because traveling into space costs so much money. Innovation has lowered that cost and has also allowed for more innovation as the more competition that exists in any industry the more changes you’ll see to that industry (and faster change), which means that people from Earth could actually land on Mars sooner than ever thought possible back in the days when NASA was the only game in town. SpaceX will seemingly factor heavily into that process, so let’s take a look at the rocket that they’ll most likely use to do so in the Falcon Heavy!
10. It has 27 Merlin Engines
The Falcon Heavy is named the Falcon Heavy because it is derived from the much smaller and lighter Falcon (9), and it’s much, much heavier. All that size and weight means that it requires a ridiculous amount of power to break free of the Earth’s atmosphere and gravity so that’s where it’s Merlin engines come into play… All 27 of them. That’s three times the amount of the nine Merlin engines that the Falcon 9 uses, allowing the Falcon Heavy to generate a total of five million pounds of thrust (at least according to the fellas at TechCrunch). That much power should allow the Falcon Heavy to lift around 120,000 pounds, which is about 50 to 60 Tesla roadsters (at least according to the shoddy math we just did). According to the SpaceX page for the Falcon Heavy, that allows that rocket to move more than double the total “freight” of it’s closest competitor and also makes it the most powerful rocket since NASA’s Saturn V from 1973.
9. The Payload
While those engines do allow the Falcon Heavy to carry nearly 120,000 pounds, it didn’t actually carry that much during it’s first flight. Despite that, though, the people at SpaceX did want to have it carry something in order to see how it handled the weight and so it has more data to work with. It’s called a mock payload and is part of every test launch and because Musk is a genius he found a way to turn that mock payload into one of the most expensive (yet in this context free) forms of advertising of all time. Instead of using the typical fare that NASA has used for it’s mock payloads, a cherry-red Tesla roadster was included in the launch and it wasn’t just any old Tesla but the actual Tesla that Musk used to drive. Inside was a dummy dressed like a spaceman, meaning that there’s a two-seat car floating through the solar system as we speak, something that some people have complained about as they’ve said that it was a self-centered move on Musk’s behalf. However, that ability for self promotion is also the reason that over 100,000 people showed up to watch the launch, something that would’ve seemed impossible towards the end of the shuttle program as people’s interest in space waned, which means that more money and attention is being invested in space related projects. Which is better than the alternative. Musk told the BBC that the roadster will be in orbit for “several hundred million years”. There goes the warranty.
8. It’s True Mission? Mars
While the stated or initial mission that the Falcon Heavy will have will be different from the smaller SpaceX rockets, which are designed to bring supplies to the International Space Station in that it’s designed to bring satellites into space. However, that’s just the short term goal as the long term goal is to actually bring people to Mars, which is something that even NASA has basically abandoned (at least outside of simply talking about it). The 23-story tall Falcon Heavy was actually initially designed for travel to Mars, according to the SpaceX website, which says that it “restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars.” That’s where the addition of the roadster to the payload also helps as should all go according to plan it’ll end up traveling slightly farther than the distance of Mars’ orbit, giving the scientists as SpaceX the data they need to calculate how long it’d take to either get a ship there (without additional boosters) or to get supplies there, as well, which is obviously important should you want to establish a colony which has to be the general thinking for those who are attempting to colonize the red planet. Either way, with the rate that the Earth is being destroyed by humans it’s nice to know that at least some companies are working on a contingency plan should the human race, you know, want to continue existing… So it can find a new place to destroy. I guess that’s a good thing.
7. Space Oddity
Space Oddity is a song by David Bowie about a fictional astronaut named Major Tom and was written after a heavily intoxicated Bowie saw the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It has been reported that the mock payload on the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster, is playing that song on a continuous loop. That makes sense as while it’s a bit out of Musk’s demographic in terms of age, it’s right up his alley as someone who likes the better things in life. That song, released in July of 1969, is one of David Bowie’s most iconic songs and was thought to be released in response to everything that was going on with NASA and the Apollo missions. Bowie actually talked about that, saying:
In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing, because it kind of came to prominence around the same time. But it actually wasn’t. It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me.
With Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon around that time it makes sense that it would be the soundtrack for that time, but outside of the Moon landing the other thing that defined the 60’s was copious drug usage, so that makes a lot of sense as well!
6. It was a HUGE Success
While the launching of the Falcon Heavy rocket was obviously a success based on the fact that a two-seat Tesla is currently flying through space while blasting David Bowie, there is another type of success that a lot of people aren’t aware of and that’s the success that SpaceX has brought the region of Florida near the Kennedy Space Center. Kennedy Space Center is headquartered on Merritt Island, Florida and is about forty miles from Orlando and 115 from Tampa, Florida. That area had be devastated economically by the lack of launches in recent years as those launches brought all sorts of people and their children into town which means lots of hotels and restaurants were closing down after NASA shuttered it’s Shuttle program. With companies like SpaceX bringing space travel back, there’s been an over $20 billion dollar a year windfall for Florida alone, which makes sense considering that each rocket launch costs between $90 and $150 million dollars. Beyond the above, it takes a lot of very smart people to actually make these rockets work which means about 16,000 employees working in and around the launch areas as well. The space economy will only get larger and larger, especially with third-world countries modernizing and needing their own satellites so you’d have to think that that number will only increase first in the United States and then globally (as those countries develop their own space programs).
5. Speaking of Success…
The reason that private companies have been able to get into the space game is that the technology has become less prohibitively expensive. However, that having been said, it’s still crazy expensive to launch these rockets, but it’s actually less expensive for the United States government to pay a third party company like Space X the money to launch things into space for them than for them to hire people to do it themselves, most likely because like all things privatized, the employees are paid way less money. Regardless, the cost of each launch is ridiculously expensive which is why each failure is such a big deal and also why it’s been so important to try to recover as much as possible from each rocket by either getting the entire thing to land or as is the case with the Falcon Heavy, as many parts of it to land as possible. According to Wikipedia, the cost of each launch for the Falcon Heavy is $90 million dollars for a reusable rocket and $150 million dollars if it’s “expendable” or used once. That’s a hefty payday and while that cost is definitely going to go down over time it’s still an amazing number. Luckily as the last entry on this list showed, a lot of that money goes back into the economy which means that it’s definitely worth doing from an economic standpoint and definitely worthwhile from the standpoint of humans needing to find another planet to live on sooner or later with emphasis on the sooner.
4. It has Taken A Long Time to Get Here
Beyond the cost that’s gone into the Falcon Heavy, the sheer amount of time that has taken to get to the point of the successful launch has been significant as well. It was initially announced in 2015 that the first Falcon Heavy rocket launch would occur in early 2016, but when that time came and went it was stated that the date had been moved back to late 2016. 2016 was a notoriously bad year for SpaceX, though, as one of it’s rockets exploded on the launchpad that year which raised all sorts of questions about viability and safety. Because of that, the launch date was moved yet again to 2017, but it was announced in the middle of the year that the launch was pushed to November (thanks to a Tweet by Musk himself). He then pushed it to January and while it got close then, it wasn’t until about a month later that the launch was actually attempted and successful. Musk discussed this by saying that it ended up being “a lot harder” than him and his people thought it would be to, you know, be rocket scientists but to his credit he did call himself naive because of that which is refreshing.
3. It Gets Pretty Good Miles to the Gallon (No, Really (Sort Of))
One of the more important aspects of reaching Mars is being able to have enough fuel to do so and while space has little to no friction, anyone who has seen Apollo 13 will know that you can never have too much fuel. With that in mind, the Falcon Heavy actually boosts pretty decent fuel economy for a rocket that’s built atop two 23 story tall fuel tanks (that empty around the time the rocket hits space, at least traditionally). The other important aspect of having good fuel economy is that it obviously takes less fuel to get somewhere and that lowers the cost, which is what the engineers at SpaceX were at least partially shooting for when developing their crown jewel. Musk originally promised to make a rocket that would eventually reach about $1,100 per kilogram lifted, which would’ve made it insanely cheap in the context of space flight. Right now, the Falcon Heavy is able to lift about 2,250 kilograms for $90 million dollars, which breaks down to a cost of just under $4,000 per kilogram lifted, which is more than three-and-a-half times what he originally promised. However, that means that the Falcon Heavy can lift twice as much weight for a third of the cost of it’s competition and getting better everyday, so to call it a failure would be the wrong line of thinking.
2. It’s Not the Final Step, Though…
While the Falcon Heavy was originally created to ferry people from Earth to Mars, apparently at some point the people behind it must’ve realized that it wasn’t going to be able to do what they wanted it to do and so they’ve actually come out to say that there’s something else coming down the pike that’ll replace the Falcon Heavy before the trips to Mars actually begin. Gwynne Shotwell, who is the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX was talking to the Author of Elon Musk’s biography (titled ‘Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future’), Ashlee Vance, and stated that “[The] Falcon Heavy will not take a busload of people to Mars.” That news seemingly took the scientific world by storm as up until that point the Falcon Heavy was being promoted as just that, she continued “So, there’s something after Heavy.” That means that just like the naivete that Musk admitted when it came to actually getting his rocket(s) to work also extended to the destinations or Where and not just the How. So, what is that “Something”? Just ask Shotwell who concluded; “We’re working on it”. Whatever it is you have to believe that it’ll break the internet and blow people’s minds and while your guess is as good as ours perhaps it’ll end up being the Hyperloop.
1. It was Completely Privately Funded
Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the success of the Falcon Heavy (Outside of Elon Musk and the people of North-Eastern Florida) was the United States government, as they’ll now be able to spend pennies on the dollar in terms of getting it’s satellites and/or supplies into space. Because of that, you’d think that the United States government and it’s military would’ve heavily invested in the Falcon Heavy (or SpaceX as a whole) and that they would’ve even provided some of the blueprints for it’s rockets (namely the Saturn V). The Falcon Heavy was actually completely funded by private groups, though, which is saying something because the cost was over $500 million dollars, which means that there’s a lot of groups that are expecting to receive a decent windfall from the Falcon Heavy. That explains the 100,000 people that showed up to the launch, as they were all there to potentially break Elon Musk’s thumbs if the rocket didn’t actually take off and they felt that Musk didn’t have half a billion dollars in the trunk of that Tesla. Speaking of that Tesla, that means that that was DEFINITELY the most expensive form of advertising of all-time, take that, Super Bowl.