Poised for launch this afternoon is the maiden voyage of SpaceX’s highly anticipated Falcon Heavy rocket. A test flight for the new launch vehicle, Falcon Heavy was first announced in 2011, with a hopeful launch date in late 2013, or 2014. Quickly thereafter, various delays and design alterations pushed the proposed date back months, and then years.
Now, after a successful test fire of the vehicle’s main engines January 24, SpaceX is ready to launch.
Continuing SpaceX’s mission to create a completely reusable launch vehicle, nearly two-thirds of this rocket have been previously flown. Specifically, the rocket’s side boosters are both being reused for this launch. One, which launched a satellite for Thaicom in May 2016, and the other in August 2016, sent a Dragon cargo vehicle to the International Space Station.
And this launch is no different. SpaceX is planning the near-simultaneous landing of the vehicle’s side boosters back at Cape Canaveral, at the appropriately named Landing-Zones 1 and 2. Shortly after, the rocket’s central core will perform its retrograde burn, and attempt a landing on SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You.
This is a new type of landing profile for SpaceX. The velocities and choreography of the Falcon Heavy landing attempt have required the side boosters be modified with larger, stronger grid fins. Additionally, the main core has the potential to be traveling at much higher speeds upon return than the regular Falcon 9. Differences not withstanding, this past year SpaceX had a 100 percent success rate of its 18 launches. The data from which undoubtedly has been added to increase the probability of a successful Falcon Heavy landing attempt.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is hopeful for the success of this launch. In a teleconference with press Monday, he stated, “I'm sure we've done everything we could do to maximize chances of success of this mission. If something goes wrong there's nothing you could've done. So I feel at peace with that.”
This comes only hours after an interview with Ars Tecnica in which he is quoted saying, “a really tremendous amount [could go wrong]. I really like to emphasize that the odds of success are not super high. I don’t want to jinx it—I’m tempted to say. Because I feel super optimistic. But I feel as though that optimism has no basis in fact. I feel like we’ve got a two-thirds chance of success, but in reality we only have a 50-50 chance.”
Musk is also stated at last year’s International Space Station Research and Development Conference, “Real good chance that the vehicle doesn't make it to orbit. I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly.”
Either way, he asserts it should be a good show.
Currently scheduled for 3:45pm ET, today’s launch window closes at 4pm. In the event of a scrub, SpaceX will attempt a launch tomorrow between 1:30-4pm.
Watch the launch live at www.spacex.com/webcast