World’s most powerful rocket launches

Michael Souza,

SpaceX launches the Falcon Heavy, delivers a Tesla car to space

On Feb. 6, SpaceX launched the most powerful rocket in the world into outer space. The rocket was carrying a sports car that will now orbit the sun for millions of years.

SpaceX is a private spaceflight company headed by Elon Musk, the famed billionaire who also leads Tesla. They successfully launched their newest rocket — the Falcon Heavy — on its first test voyage into space. The launch was meant to test the landing capabilities of the rocket as well as its ability to deliver its payload into space, which in this case was Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster electric car.

Traditionally, the payload in a test flight such as this would be cheap material such as a large concrete block chosen as a stand in for an expensive satellite. Due to his affiliation with both companies, Musk used the opportunity to generate publicity and excitement about space by sending his personal car, according to comments made by Musk at a press conference after the launch.

The launch may have generated publicity and more public attention than a concrete slab might have, but some in the media have criticised Musk, the launch, and the praise it received.

In 2016 and 2017, Tesla was accused of overworking employees at the Fremont factory and providing poor and dangerous working conditions, according to The Guardian.

Alexander Kaufman, an environmental reporter for the Huffington Post tweeted on Feb. 6 that “the clearest sign that we are in a new Gilded Age might be the nation gushing over a union-busting billionaire’s launch of his quarter-million-dollar sports car into space on his own private rockets while everyone ignores reports of his factory workers suffering egregious injuries.”

Musk called the accusations against Tesla “morally outrageous” in a 2017 interview with Gizmodo, defending the factory and working conditions.

The commercialization of space has also been criticised by those who prefer that government organizations such as NASA take the lead in spaceflights.

In 2016, Charlie Bolden, the NASA administrator at the time, criticised companies such as SpaceX, stating that he “is not a big fan of commercial investment in large launch vehicles just yet.”

SpaceX is one of many private spaceflight companies. Competitors such as Blue Origin — the spaceflight company started by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon —  are working to catch up with the progress of SpaceX with plans to land on the Moon by 2020, which Musk has welcomed. “We want a new space race. Races are exciting,” Musk said in the post launch press conference.

Despite his excitement at competition, Musk believes that SpaceX is well ahead of any rivals. The biggest difference between SpaceX’s rockets and their competitors’ is the reusability of the Falcon series of rockets, according to Musk. Because of its recyclability, a single launch of the Falcon Heavy costs about $150 million, compared to the $400 million cost of the Delta IV Heavy rocket by the United Launch Alliance, a competitor of SpaceX, Musk wrote via Twitter on Feb 12. Tory Bruno, the CEO of United Launch Alliance tweeted a response, clarifying that the Delta IV actually only costs $350 million.

The Falcon Heavy rocket is capable of reaching Pluto and beyond, Musk claimed in the post-launch press conference. SpaceX initially intended on using the Falcon Heavy in cooperation with NASA for manned space flight missions, but has since changed those plans according to a press conference days before the launch on Feb 6. Instead, SpaceX intends on delaying manned space flights until their next project, the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR, is ready for launch.

The Falcon Heavy launch has helped SpaceX to understand better what progress they will need to make in order to make the proposed BFR a reality. The BFR is planned to be over 100 feet taller than the Falcon Heavy at 348 feet, and nearly three times the diameter, at roughly 30 feet wide, as well as having nearly four times the weight capacity. SpaceX plans to use the BFR for flights between anywhere on earth in less than an hour and the transportation of astronauts and cargo to Mars and back by 2024.

Before the Feb. 6 Falcon Heavy launch, Musk was setting expectations low, later explaining that “You know all the ways it can fail. There’s thousands of things that can go wrong, and everything has to go right.” After seeing the rocket launch and the boosters perform their synchronized landing, Musk said that he learned that “Crazy things can come true.”