SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk recently announced on social media that his company was able to successfully fire all of the Falcon Heavy’s 27 Merlin 1D main engines during a hold-down test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch of the company’s biggest rocket has experienced several delays following SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing failures in 2015 and 2016. Musk initially wanted the Falcon Heavy program to officially launch its first rocket in 2013, but that didn’t happen as engineers had to deal with unforeseen issues related to basically strapping three Falcon 9 first stage boosters and launching it as one vehicle. More importantly, Musk wanted the entire thing to be completely reusable, a strategy that brings with it its own set of technical issues.
All of the Falcon Heavy’s 27 engines were ignited at 12:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday, with SpaceX ramping its engines close to full capacity. All in all, the rocket was able to generate around five million pounds of thrust, making it one of the most powerful rockets ever built. The Falcon Heavy rocket’s thrust figures officially exceeded the thrust capacity of the current world’s most powerful active heavy-lift launch vehicle, the Ariane 5. According to SpaceX, the 3.1 million pound rocket should be able to lift around 140,700 pounds into low earth orbit.
After the test, the Falcon Heavy is scheduled to be brought back into SpaceX’s hangar, where it will undergo several tests and final checks for its official first demo launch. Instead of using a traditional dummy satellite as its test payload, Musk had previously announced that he will be loading his own Tesla Roadster on board. The rocket will then attempt to bring the electric sports car into a heliocentric solar orbit, which will take it close to the Sun and around Mars.
Launching the rocket into orbit will just be the first hurdle to overcome as SpaceX is planning to guide and land all three boosters safely back to earth. The first two side boosters will separate from the rocket’s core within less than three minutes after liftoff. The two rockets will then be guided into hopefully uneventful and safe landings at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The center booster will then drop a bit later and land at SpaceX’s mobile recovery barge stationed somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. A smaller upper stage rocket will then continue on to drop the payload into orbit.
The company has yet to officially announce the Falcon Heavy’s inaugural launch, but Musk has teased that it could be happening in just a couple of weeks. Due to its reusable nature, the successful launch and retrieval of the Falcon Heavy could significantly change the space transportation industry by drastically bringing the down cost to bring cargo and passengers into orbit.