“The Falcons Have Landed”

Vipul Telang, Nick Hernandez, and Samantha Stirmel /The Avion Newspaper

The World’s Most Powerful Rocket Lifts off, Carrying Our Future

Samantha Stirmel/Business Manager

Falcon Heavy, the rocket that was almost canceled three times by the SpaceX company, lifted off Tuesday, Feb. 6 from pad LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. With Elon Musk’s midnight-cherry Tesla Roadster loaded in the payload bay and thousands of people flooding beaches and viewing spots all near Cape Canaveral, the Falcon Heavy sat in wait for its window to come open. The window for the Falcon Heavy was from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Before even hitting the opening time, the launch was pushed back again and again because of strong winds aloft. Engineers from SpaceX were worried that the rocket would not be able to withstand these winds and therefore kept pushing off the launch to wait for them to pass. Finally, SpaceX announced that the launch would take place at 3:45 p.m., everyone held their breath leading up until the last few minutes. Photographers adjusted their cameras and set the final settings before the launch. The loudspeaker across every site on the island began the countdown. 3..2…1.. Lift-off.

The side boosters ignited with the core following close behind. Blasting off into the atmosphere, the Falcon Heavy trailed fiery flames behind it as it reached higher and higher. Some noticed that the core booster did not fully ignite all of its thrusters; however, this did not slow down the rocket and the launch succeeded to the sound of cheering from everyone that was watching. Both side boosters landed several minutes after separation and drifted back to Earth before coming to rest almost simultaneously on SpaceX’s landing pads. Musk informed the press that the boosters had a staggered landing, so the radars would not get confused. The core booster followed several minutes later, sadly, to a watery disintegration. In the press conference afterward, Elon Musk informed the press that the core booster had smashed into the water of the Atlantic Ocean about 100 meters away from the drone ship where it was scheduled to land. When coming into contact with the water, it was estimated that the core booster hit the water at about 300 miles per hour. The force was enough to shred the booster, turning it into shrapnel that showered the deck of the drone ship, which also took out two of the four thrusters. Both side boosters are re-flyable and will be used again in a future launch, but the loss of the core booster has no impact on the next launch, as “it would not have been used anyways” according to Musk.

As everyone exited the island after the launch, many were privileged to see live views from Musk’s roadster drifting in space. When the camera view flashed to see the dashboard, one could see a screen that displayed a message: “DON’T PANIC.” The dummy astronaut sitting in the driver seat of the roadster was in SpaceX’s new spacesuit which they have finally finished developing after three years. Several modifications were made to the car including a message on one of the motherboards in the car that said, “Made by Humans.” Also featured on the dashboard is a special edition mini of the Tesla Roadster by Hotwheels, which they mounted on the dash. Musk’s Roadster was playing Space Oddity on its way up; however, it only could for 12 hours because that is how long the batteries for the car lasted. Sadly, the Roadster will not be landing on Mars anytime soon as the window of opportunity for it exceeded the expectations. By the time the Roadster does get close to Mars orbit, it will be a billion years later and will probably be decimated by radiation by the time it gets there.

Because of the success of the Falcon Heavy, Musk expects there to be about a dozen more launches within the next two to three years. Now that Falcon Heavy has turned into a success, SpaceX will be focusing almost all of their efforts on the BFR. Musk expects that within the next year they will be experimenting with “hopper flights” for the BFR. These hopper flights will start over land at their Brownsville location, before expanding to ship to ship jumps, and then onto launching into the atmosphere and then plummeting back down to better test the heat shield. SpaceX plans to have a reusable heat shield teamed with the boosters and fairing recoveries to continue their path of reusing parts of the rockets.

Photo Courtesy: SpaceX / The Falcon Heavy booster cores touch down in a historic first at SpaceX Landing Complex 1

This represents a brand new chapter for SpaceX and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. SpaceX has had one of their most successful launches yet and the crusade for the BFR has commenced. This means the creation of new jobs for engineers and many more launches from SpaceX. BFR will also have spots for new astronauts and will be taking them to the Moon before continuing onto the goal since the beginning: Mars. Falcon Heavy paves the way for a greater tomorrow.