The “Starman” is coming back. SpaceX’s dummy started careening around the solar system on February 6, when the company launched its Falcon Heavy rocket on its first-ever flight. As the company gears up to launch the rocket for a second time, a tracker website shows how the car has started making its way back toward Earth’s orbit.
For the past year, SpaceX’s test dummy has been zooming around space, strapped in the driver’s seat of Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster. The payload was designed to test SpaceX’s rocket, which ranks as the world’s most powerful operational rocket. The original version produced a liftoff thrust of 4.7 million pounds, around double that of the currently operational Delta IV. It’s a record only outstripped by the Saturn V, which last flew in 1973 and could send 117,000 pounds to low Earth orbit.
SpaceX is set to fly the rocket for a second time when it launches Lockheed Martin’s Arabsat-6A communications satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. The launch, scheduled for 6:36 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In the meantime, the “WhereIsRoadster” website created by Ben Pearson has been tracking the “Starman” as it quietly careens through space. In November 2018, it showed the car had swung past Mars. The website currently shows the Roadster reaching the end of its depicted counterclockwise orbit to return to its original starting point.
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With each rotation expected to take around 557 days, the “Starman” should reach its original start point around August 2019.
Musk’s Roadster contained a treasure trove of sci-fi and pop culture references. The dummy is kitted with a SpaceX spacesuit, the kind designed to send humans to the International Space Station and beyond. The in-car sound system plays David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on loop. Even the dashboard has a reference to the sci-fi novel series Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a “Don’t Panic” sticker recalling the advice given by the guide within the novel. It also contains a “5D quartz laser storage device” containing Isaac Asimov’s Foundation book trilogy.
Pearson has produced a simulation of what the “Starman” may see out of the windshield during its journey.
The “Starman” has undergone an incredible journey. On a sense, it has exceeded its warranty of 36,000 miles around 15,250 times by “driving” around the sun 549 million miles at a speed of 55,906 mph. It’s a speed that even beats out the upcoming second-generation Roadster, expected to reach a paltry 250 mph at its top speed.
All this traveling has done wonders for the car’s fuel economy, which thanks to all this celestial travel now boasts a fuel consumption of 4,358 miles per gallon (assuming the car is powered by the equivalent of 126,000 gallons of gasoline, the equivalent amount of fuel in the Falcon Heavy). He’s probably grown sick of “Space Oddity” at this point, expected to have listened to it 115,672 times.
With the Falcon Heavy’s first commercial mission rapidly approaching, the “Starman” can take comfort in the fact that the initial mission helped pave the way for these more ambitious real-world uses.