The Falcon Heavy is set to launch Tuesday from Kennedy Space Center, and if it successfully lifts off, it’ll be considered the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
However, unlike previous SpaceX launches where rockets have carried up satellites and International Space Station supplies, this time the Falcon Heavy is carrying a very different payload: A cherry-red Tesla Roadster.
While a spectacular thing to imagine, how the Roadster will fare once it’s launched into the cold abyss of space is enough to make a gearhead squirm.
On Monday, Elon Musk told reporters this: “we’re going to be testing something on this flight which we’ve never done before, which is a six-hour coast in deep space.” And on this coast, as the Tesla and rocket zoom through the Van Allen belt, it’s expected that they’ll “get whacked pretty hard.”
The Van Allen belt is a radioactive zone consisting of billions of high-energy particles trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. But while some inevitable damage is expected to come from cruising through the belt, Musk seems confident that the tour won’t spell out the total destruction of the vehicle.
“We’re not worried about the car,” says Musk. “It’s the least of my concerns — I hope.”
If the Roadster makes it through the belt, it will then be injected out into a heliocentric orbit. Traveling at an estimated 11 kilometers per second, the car will be stuck in an orbital loop, moving along the Trans-Mars injection, sometime being closer to Earth and other times Mars.
“We estimate it will be in that orbit for several hundred million years, or maybe in excess of a billion years,” announced Musk.
Sending a Roadster into space, while a publicity stunt, is mainly an opportunity for SpaceX to test whether it can send a payload into orbit. If it all goes to plan, a successful launch will mean the U.S. Air Force will begin to use the Falcon Heavy to transport national security payloads.
Musk took to Twitter to say he “[loved] the thought of a car driving apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.”