The successful launch of billionaire Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy is signalling a new era in space exploration.
The Falcon Heavy is the first space vehicle with reusable rockets.
Just after take-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, two of the three rockets clamped to the launcher’s sides gently landed back on Earth. The third misfired and broke up on impact in the Atlantic Ocean, near where it was due to land on a barge.
This small but revolutionary event proves Musk’s argument that space flight is too expensive when single-use rockets are used and smashes the theory that current technology is not advanced enough to launch large payloads.
The Falcon Heavy can deliver a 64-tonne payload to low Earth orbit – double that of Musk’s Delta 1V Heavy and three times that of other commercial rockets. The space shuttle could carry 24 tonnes of cargo.
Game over for rivals, says Musk
More importantly, the Falcon Heavy launches cost a third of the price of the rest.
Each Falcon Heavy launch costs $90 million, while NASA’s SLS rocket, which is similar in size and specification to Musk’s craft, comes with a $1 billion-a-launch price tag.
“It’ll be game-over for all other heavy-lift rockets,” said Musk.
“It’ll be like trying to sell an aircraft where one aircraft company has a reusable aircraft and all the other companies had aircraft that were single-use where you would parachute out at your destination and the plane would crash-land randomly somewhere. Crazy as that sounds – that’s how the rocket business works.”
The Falcon Heavy was launched with one of Musk’s Tesla Roadster’s on board, tagged as “Made on Earth by humans” and “Don’t panic” stamped on the dashboard.
Space tourism and colonisation
The Falcon Heavy’s successful launch comes with the dream of building a new space station above the moon, carrying bigger and better telecom or military satellites, and shuttling people to deep space destinations.
Last year, SpaceX said it intended to send two private citizens on a trip around the moon, possibly as later this year.
Meanwhile, the Falcon Heavy launch was watched with interest by Mars One entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, who wants to fly one-way settlers to the planet by 2030.
He has whittled down 200,000 applicants to a short-list of 100 who are currently in training.
Lansdorp will select four – two men and two women – to travel to Mars to set up a colony, but his scheme does not include a mission to bring them home.