SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Just Took a Major Step to Mars Mission

It looks like it’s finally happening.

Flickr / Official SpaceX Photos

After five years of delays, SpaceX is ready to launch its most powerful rocket to date, the Falcon Heavy.

On February 2, the Federal Aviation Administration — a United States authority that regulates non-military air travel — issued Elon Musk’s aerospace company a launch license for the rocket’s maiden voyage. This gives SpaceX a green light to blast Musk’s red Tesla Roadster into Mars’ orbit from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The launch window for the much-anticipated flight opens on Tuesday, February 6 at 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern. The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron issued a forecast on Monday, anticipating an 80 percent change of favorable conditions for the Falcon Heavy’s debut launch.

If all goes according to plan on Tuesday, aerospace records will be shattered. The Falcon Heavy is an absolute beast of a rocket, composed of three Falcon 9 rocket boosters, able to carry 64 metric tons (141,000 lb) in payload weight. At full power, this triple-core booster is capable of generating more than 5 million pounds of thrust, making it the most powerful operational rocket in the world.

Much like the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy’s boosters are reusable. The rocket will utilize all three cores during launch, but the two thrusters attached to the main core will breakaway during ascent. Upon detachment, the pair of rockets will attempt to land back on SpaceX’s two landing pads in Cape Canaveral, aptly named Landing Zone 1 and Landing Zone 2.

The main booster will also attempt to land itself back on Earth as well, but it will head to one of SpaceX’s drone ships in the Atlantic ocean. If this rocket trio makes it back successfully, they could be reused for future missions.

Tuesday’s launch will greatly impact the future of Musk’s space travel company, as the U.S. Air Force will be judging to see if the Falcon Heavy is ready to transport national security payloads. A successful launch could mean massive government and private contracts in the future, seeing as there is no other rocket that can take things further than the Falcon Heavy.

So at long last, the time has come for a rocket announced in 2011 to take flight. Aerospace professionals and space enthusiasts and the rest of us nerds will all be at the edge of our seats.

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