Falcon Heavy: SpaceX, private spaceflight bring hope back to Space Coast

By Jerry Hume, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, February 05, 2018, 3:09 PM EST

After suffering an economic decline following the end of the space shuttle program, Florida’s Space Coast is back on the map, thanks to SpaceX and other private aerospace companies.

Kennedy Space Center and the entire Space Coast are expecting huge crowds for Tuesday's Falcon Heavy launch, one of the most highly anticipated rocket launches in years.

“When the shuttle was retired, there was a lot of people in the workforce who needed jobs, basically," said Addie Dove, a planetary science professor at the University of Central Florida. "SpaceX and some of these other companies are really bringing back jobs and exciting launches.”

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon cargo capsule debuted in 2010, launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was the first time a commercial company successfully launched a spacecraft to orbit and then returned it back to Earth.

Two years later, the company’s Dragon capsule became the first commercial spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station.

Then, in 2014, the company started to successfully land their first-stage boosters, first on a drone ship off the Atlantic coast, and then, on land at the Air Force station.

“I think part of the lure of SpaceX is just that they go for it, right? And they do it differently,” Dove said.

Now, the company is hoping to make another first on the Space Coast with the launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket. At 230 feet tall, it's currently the world's most powerful rocket. Its three boosters provide more than 5 million pounds of thrust, making it capable of sending heavier payloads deeper into space.

SpaceX's test flight on Tuesday will blast CEO Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster into Mars orbit -- along with a dummy named "Starman" riding in the driver's seat. The company hopes to bring the three boosters back to Earth and land them after launch.

SpaceX is looking at Falcon Heavy as the future of its business, with a manned mission to the International Space Station by the end of this year or early next year. It would be the first time astronauts will be sent to space from American soil since the last space shuttle launch in 2011.

Tuesday's launch “is really setting the stage for what will come in the future, and it’s just different than what we’ve seen in a really, really long time," Dove said. "We haven’t had this capability since the Saturn V, and this flight, if it goes off well, is going to be groundbreaking.”