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The Falcon Heavy Takes Flight (SpaceX Launch)

SpaceX recently launched a rocket, the Falcon Heavy, that brings exciting progress for the world of rocketry.

Falcon Heavy is special because it is now the most powerful operational rocket in the world that is able to carry payloads that are twice as heavy as those done before at one third the cost.


THE LAUNCH

On February 6th, 2018, Falcon Heavy successfully lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. With the ability to carry nearly 141,000 pounds into orbit, the Falcon Heavy is considered the most powerful rocket in the world. This power can be used to send bigger satellites into orbit and to conduct more manned space explorations missions, including future missions related to the colonization of Mars.


The Rocket

The first stage is comprised of 2 side cores (boosters) and 3 cores in total that generate 5.13 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, through the use of 27 Merlin engines (9 for each core). At liftoff, the 3 cores operate at full thrust. After liftoff, the engines are throttled down and the 2 boosters separate simultaneously and return to Earth where they successfully landed with this past launch. When the boosters separate, the center core’s engines are throttled up. After delivering the upper stage(the top portion of the rocket that carries the payload) to a low earth orbit, the center core was meant to detach and land on SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship but it was unable to relight all 3 engines necessary to land so it hit the water at 300 miles per hour and in the process, damaged the drone ship.

The Falcon Rocket carried a truly unique payload. Inside the rocket was SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster complete with a dummy (known as Starman) wearing a newly designed spacesuit, sitting in the driver’s seat. The dashboard of the car has the words “Don’t Panic” painted on it as a reference to Isaac Asimov’s foundation series. In addition, the car will play the song Space Oddity as a tribute to the late David Bowie.


Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster as Starman cruises past the Earth
"Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster as Starman cruises past the Earth"

IMPORTANCE

There are a few details that set apart this launch and other existing rockets. First is the sheer power of this rocket. As previously mentioned, the Falcon Heavy’s ability to carry 68 tonnes of equipment sets it apart from other rockets; its closest competitor, the Delta IV heavy, can carry only 29 tonnes. Furthermore, the Falcon rocket can be a fully reusable rocket. Although the central core was damaged during its launch, the 2 side boosters can still be reused after their successful landings. In comparison, most launch vehicles that are currently used burn up on reentry or land in the ocean - making them too damaged to be used for future launches. The reusability of the Falcon Heavy, in turn, makes it one of the most efficient and effective spacecrafts in terms of cost. The cost of carrying payloads for the Falcon Heavy is approximately $1,300 per kg of payload while the same cost would be approximately $60,000 per kg for a space shuttle.


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Tagged in : Space Technology

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Ananya Bharath

Ananya Bharath is a junior at Cupertino High School. She likes to research the latest tech breakthroughs, and is interested in pursuing a career in materials science and engineering.