On February 6, 2018, SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon Heavy Rocket from the Kennedy Space Center with the intent of delivering CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster to Mars. As thousands cheered the lift off, Falcon Heavy became the most powerful rocket launched by SpaceX thus far.
Those witnessing the launch had a beautiful day to watch with clear blue skies, though high winds forced the launch window back five times before the Falcon Heavy blasted into space. Among the thousands on hand to witness the launch was Buzz Aldrin, who along with the many space fanatics and spectators got quite the show. It was reminiscent of previous space shuttle and Apollo Saturn V launches.
As the rocket sped out into space, the side boosters separated and returned to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as planned. The middle booster, with the Roadster on board and “Starman” (a dummy) at the wheel, continued into space before aiming for a landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The booster missed its intended target and landed nearly 100 meters away in the ocean.
This Falcon Heavy test flight, announced nearly seven years ago, is the most ambitious yet for Space X, ‘yet’ being the key word. Another Falcon Heavy is planned for late spring, along with multiple launches later in the year. Falcon Heavy promises the option for a new class of payload, one that will be able to venture farther than any before it.
Next up for SpaceX is the Crew Dragon, the next-gen Dragon craft which will carry astronauts to the International Space Station. In order to do so, SpaceX will have to meet NASA’s demanding standards for crew members. Well on the way to accomplishing that task, SpaceX hopes NASA astronauts will head into space on the Crew Dragon as early as the end of 2018.
Though Falcon Heavy was designed to carry humans into space, and the Crew Dragon promises to transport NASA astronauts later this year, SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, says manned space missions, with the ultimate goal of reaching Mars successfully, will come to fruition with SpaceX’s next generation rocket, the “BFR.” The BFR will be considerably larger than Falcon Heavy, able to carry 100 people in a single launch. The current timeline for the BFR’s first manned flight to Mars is 2024, nearly ten years before NASA plans to do so.
After nearly falling into bankruptcy in 2008, SpaceX has grown quickly with successful launches of their high-performance rockets which continually progress toward more greater reusability and cost effectiveness. SpaceX has big plans ahead for the Falcon, Dragon, and BFR as well as a launch schedule worth nearly $10 billion.
But the new space race is heating up and SpaceX has a great deal of competition from a number of companies, not only from the latest newsmakers Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos) with Glenn and Stratolaunch Systems (Paul Allen) with Stratolaunch, but from other industry leaders, each developing reusable spaceships, rocket engines, and boosters. Some of the other up and coming players in the new space race are United Launch Alliance with their Vulcan, the ArianeGroup and its Ariane 6, VirginOrbit and their Cosmic Girl, The People’s Republic of China and its Reusable Launch Vehicle, NASA with the SLS (Space Launch System), and Orbital ATK and its Next Generation Launch system.
The competition is growing for SpaceX, whose ongoing successes are laying the foundation for the BFR and its potential success in the near future. And so, the new space race is on!