Elon Musk Launches Most Powerful Rocket of a Generation
After years of delays and roughly $1 billion invested, Space Exploration Technology Corp has successfully launched a test flight of its Falcon Heavy rocket. The launch was another major victory for project founder Elon Musk, who overcame numerous obstacles in developing the most powerful rocket in nearly five decades.
Falcony Heavy launched at 3:45 p.m. ET Tuesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket measured 230 feet in length, and was equipped with 27 engines. It was designed to deliver a maximum payload of 64 tons to low-Earth orbit, easily making it the most powerful rocket in existence today. According to Musk, Falcon Heavy is more than twice as powerful as Delta IV Heavy but at roughly a third of the cost.
The following image provided by the BBC shows how Falcon stacks up against other rockets from the perspective of payload to low-Earth orbit, as measured in metric tons:
Prior to the launch, Musk predicted the success of Falcon Heavy was only 50-50, given the considerable design changes that went into the final product. Those aren’t very good odds for a project that was conceived at the start of the decade.
“I had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad, a wheel bouncing down the road. But fortunately that’s not what happened,” Musk told media after the event.
The successful launch of Heavy Falcon offers SpaceX more than just bragging rights, but a viable long-term business model. As Musk explained on the eve of the launch, the success of Falcon Heavy would make it the de facto market leader for heavy lift launches. In his view, this automatically puts Delta IV Heavy, Europe’s Ariane 5 and others out of commission.
SpaceX is already well positioned to capitalize on the launch business. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the company has managed to integrate operations vertically, cut prices and reuse main engines. Astonishingly, the SpaceX rocket was produced entirely through private funds. This challenges conventional wisdom that government agencies have a natural monopoly on space. It also raises optimism in the growth of the commercial launch industry, which Florida Senator Bill Nelson described as “great news for jobs and the economy.”
Of course, the vision of Musk is much bigger than creating a launch business. The entire purpose of SpaceX is to facilitate space travel and colonize Mars.
Although analysts have calculated the chances of a SpaceX initial public offering, the company does not trade publicly.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.