5 things we learned from Elon Musk on Falcon Heavy launch

By Audrea Huff, Senior Digital Media Producer
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 06, 2018, 4:53 AM EST

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk answered some questions Monday about the company's Falcon Heavy rocket and its first flight into space.


LIVE COVERAGE: Count on Spectrum News on Tuesday for comprehensive coverage of the launch. We'll have live coverage on TV, on our Facebook page, on Instagram and live feeds on Twitter. Also watch the launch live on our website. The launch window opens at 1:30 p.m. ET and closes at 4 p.m.


The rocket — currently the world's most powerful — is set to blast off Tuesday from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Aboard the rocket will be Musk's cherry-red Tesla Roadster, which SpaceX aims to put into Mars orbit.

Here are five things we learned from Musk during his briefing:

1. This test launch may very well fail. Musk has repeatedly lowered expectations for the test launch, previously saying that there's a good chance it will blow up. "I'll be happy if it just clears the pad," he said again Monday. "We might get one big boom." If it does blow up, "that will be a real pain in the neck," he said. Not only will the rocket will be lost in spectacular fashion, but Launch Pad 39A — the historic site of Saturn V and shuttle launches — will be damaged, for which repairs could take nine months.

2. Van Allen Belts pose a big obstacle. The Van Allen Belts are a region of highly charged particles in the Earth's magnetosphere. Musk said the third stage booster — with the Roadster aboard — will "coast" for six hours through the belts, where "it's going to get whacked pretty hard" by the high energy particles. "The fuel could freeze, and the oxygen could vaporize, all of which could inhibit" the rocket's third burn.

3. SpaceX is aiming to recover two of every three core boosters. As Musk described it, the Falcon Heavy is essentially a Falcon 9 — the company's workhorse rocket — with two side boosters. The company has had consistent success in recovering first-stage boosters for the Falcon 9, both on land and on the drone ship in the Atlantic. Musk said for the Falcon Heavy, the company expects to recover two of three cores on each flight. Recovering and reusing the boosters keeps costs down and allows for a quicker turnaround time. "We can produce Falcon Heavys at a rapid rate," Musk said. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX can attempt another Falcon Heavy launch within three to six months, he said. With that in mind, and assuming the mission goes to plan, expect a series of sonic booms Tuesday, about 10 minutes after launch.

4. There are cameras on the Roadster itself. Although there are numerous sensors mounted on the upper stage of the rocket, Musk said there are three cameras on his car, which "should provide some epic views." Sitting in the driver's seat of the Roadster, by the way, is a dummy named "Starman," named for a David Bowie song (Musk is a Bowie fan). Playing on the radio? Bowie's "Space Oddity." Despite the nod to pop culture, Musk reiterated that the primary mission for this launch is to gather data and learn. "There's so much to be confirmed if this works," he said.

5. SpaceX isn't banking on Falcon Heavy for manned missions. Musk had previously said that SpaceX would be looking to the Falcon Heavy for manned missions, either this year or early next year. On Monday, Musk said the company is now eyeing its next-generation launch vehicle, the "BFR," to be its future of manned spaceflight. "I was looking at the Falcon Heavy and thinking it's a bit small," Musk said. "... We've kind of tabled crew on the Falcon Heavy to focus our energies on the BFR," he said. "BFR development has moved faster than we thought." The BFR is a single system — one booster and one ship — that will eventually replace the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon, the company says.  

An estimated 100,000 people are expected to be on the Space Coast to witness this historic mission. Local officials say hotels are booked up. Expect popular viewing spots to be packed, and traffic may be jammed before and after the launch.

Live chat

 

Live Blog LIVE CHAT: SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch