After facing early failures and skeptical attitudes, SpaceX has disrupted the business of launching rockets into space by combining cut-rate prices with the routine recovery of used rocket boosters. On Tuesday, the company, founded by Elon Musk, hopes to achieve a new milestone with a successful test launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which would be the most powerful rocket in operation in the world today.
Mr. Musk’s ultimate goal — sending people to Mars — requires inventing businesses and profits that do not exist today. He also may be angling for the federal government to help pay his way.
Whatever the case, the Falcon Heavy is SpaceX’s next step in aiming beyond the existing launch business and demonstrating that it can do more than place communications satellites in orbit and haul cargo for NASA to the International Space Station.
What exactly is SpaceX launching?
The Falcon Heavy rocket is essentially a turbocharged version of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. It is the same height and its central booster looks the same. But attached on the sides are two additional Falcon 9 boosters, which triples the thrust at liftoff. That means that the Heavy will be able to lift far heavier payloads, up to 140,000 pounds, to low-Earth orbit.
The rocket is sitting on Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That’s the same starting point of some of NASA’s most famous achievements, including Apollo 11 in 1969, the first mission that took astronauts to the moon, and the first space shuttle launch in 1981.
When are they launching it and how can I watch?
SpaceX will broadcast the launch on its website, spacex.com, beginning at 1:10 p.m. Eastern, and on YouTube. We’ll add the live video feed to this page once it becomes available.
The launch window is from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Weather forecasts call for an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, or if some technical glitch postpones the launch, SpaceX has a second opportunity on Wednesday, also between 1:30 and 4:00 p.m. (If that happens, you can sign up for The Times’s Space Calendar to get a reminder.)
“The weather is looking good,” said Elon Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX at a news conference on Monday. “The rocket is looking good.”
Why is the Falcon Heavy launch important??
The Falcon Heavy will be able to lift more payload than any other American rocket since the Saturn 5, the gargantuan rocket that NASA used for the Apollo moon landings. (The space shuttle also had more liftoff thrust, but less payload capacity, because most of the thrust went into lifting the orbiter.) It is also the first time that a commercial company has developed such a large rocket without any government financing.
The Falcon Heavy will allow SpaceX to bid on missions for the Air Force for some spy satellites that are too heavy for the Falcon 9, and it could be useful to NASA for launching large space probes. Some think it could even serve as a replacement for the Space Launch System, a gigantic rocket NASA is currently developing for carrying astronauts on deep space missions, to the moon and eventually Mars.
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SOURCE: New York Times, Kenneth Chang