SPACEX is undergoing final preparations for its second ever launch of the Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket.
It’ll be the first time the enormous spacecraft hauls the gear of paying customers into space following last year’s memorable maiden flight – a test that saw billionaire SpaceX boss Elon Musk send his own car beyond orbit.
SpaceX’s first and thus far only launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket came last February[/caption]
We’ve got all the details on this week’s historic mission below as Musk and his team attempt to solidify their status as the reigning champions of private space travel.
What is SpaceX and who is Elon Musk?
SpaceX is a private space company that aims to make carrying stuff into space cheaper.
Based in Hawthorne, California, it was set up in 2002 by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is better known as the boss of electric car maker Tesla.
The company’s goal is to build reusable rockets that fly payloads to space at a fraction of the cost of traditional carriers before safely returning to Earth.
Before SpaceX muscled in on the industry, telecomms companies, militaries and satellite firms relied on Nasa or Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to send stuff beyond orbit.
Last year, Musk’s firm operated 19 flights using its Falcon 9 rocket, outpacing every country except China (33).
Each flight costs an eye-watering £47million per launch. For comparison, Nasa pays about £62million per seat each time it sends an astronaut to space aboard a Roscosmos rocket.
Eccentric boss Musk made his billions as one of PayPal’s co-founders.
He’s weathered a torrid 12 months of scandals in which he called a hero British diver a “pedo” on Twitter and smoked weed live on YouTube while in California, where the drug is legal.
SpaceX boss Elon Musk is better known as CEO of Tesla[/caption]
What is the Falcon Heavy?
The Falcon Heavy is the world’s most powerful rocket, with twice the might of any operational spacecraft, according to SpaceX.
Using 28 rocket engines squeezed into three reusable boosters, it lifts off with the power of eighteen 747 aircraft at full throttle.
Falcon Heavy can carry 63,000 kilos of payload to low-Earth orbit – more than the mass of a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel.
SpaceX can load the craft with double the payload that its Falcon 9 rocket can carry.
This means the Falcon Heavy offers SpaceX a tantalising opportunity to carry much more stuff into space (and hence make bucketfuls more cash).
Its first and thus far only ever launch fired into space as part of a highly publicised test on February 6, 2018.
Falcon Heavy can carry huge payloads, and could be a massive cash cow for SpaceX[/caption]
What time is the launch today and how can I watch it?
The Falcon Heavy is due for its first ever commercial launch at 10:36pm GMT this evening.
Should it go as planned, it’ll be live streamed right from SpaceX’s YouTube channel.
The flight was initially scheduled for Tuesday, but got pushed back by poor weather conditions.
Flying from a launchpad at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, the Falcon Heavy will carry a massive satellite into low-Earth orbit.
Saudi Arabian company Arabsat is responsible for the comms satellite, which will beam phone signals and more to bits of Africa and the Middle East.
Hold your horses before you get too excited though, as the launch could still get pushed back further by poor weather.
According to SpaceX, the forecast tomorrow is “80% favourable”.
The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday but got pushed back due to poor weather[/caption]
Why did Elon Musk send his car into space?
During last year’s maiden Falcon Heavy launch, SpaceX boss Elon Musk bizarrely sent his car into space.
Images snapped from the bright red Tesla as it floated over Earth wowed the world.
Apart from being a neat stunt, there was actually a method to the madness.
Most test rockets are loaded with concrete or water to simulate the weight of a real payload.
Musk and SpaceX decided to cram the Falcon Heavy with a car instead to make the launch a little more exciting.
It drew criticism from some space experts.
Following the launch, former Nasa boss Lori Garver said: “I’m sure they would call the car idea brilliant & provocative. My word was gimmick.”
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