SpaceX launches Falcon Heavy rocket into space
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SpaceX launches Falcon Heavy rocket into space

February 8, 2018

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

On Tuesday, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) launched its Falcon Heavy rocket into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. According to the company, the rocket has the ability to launch 140,660 pounds (63,800 kg), the equivalent of a loaded Boeing 737 airplane, into “low Earth orbit.” SpaceX said the rocket is designed to be reusable, making launches about a third of the cost of the next largest payload-carrying rocket, the Delta IV Heavy.

The Falcon Heavy is equipped with three of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket boosters, with nine engines in each booster. Upon takeoff, two-side booster rockets detached from the rocket and landed on launchpads. The rockets had been reused from previous Falcon 9 flights with planned landings. The center booster rocket did not land on a floating platform in the ocean as planned. According to SpaceX, a malfunction led to only one of the center booster’s engines firing during its descent; at least three were required for a successful landing.

The Falcon Heavy launched carrying a Tesla car belonging to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, with a spacesuit-fitted mannequin in the driver’s seat. The car was launched into an orbit around the sun that would take it further away from Earth than Mars. Musk has said he wants to launch a mission to Mars in the next decade.

The company also said it plans to use the Falcon Heavy this year to launch its Dragon spacecraft around the moon with two paying customers on board. Musk said the rocket’s next flight would be in three to six months. SpaceX has planned flights for the the U.S. Air Force and Arabsat, a Saudi Arabian communications company.

SpaceX said the Falcon Heavy cost about $500 million to develop, and it has priced flights at $90 million.

The company added that the only rocket to have had a higher payload capacity was the Saturn V moon rocket, last launched in 1973. The payload capacity of the Falcon Heavy is more than two and a half times that of either the now-retired space shuttle from NASA or the Delta IV Heavy rocket, according to SpaceX. The Delta IV Heavy has been flown by United Launch Alliance since 2002. The Alliance is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. According to the Alliance, the Delta IV Heavy has flown 35 missions with a 100 percent mission success rate through the end of 2017.

Sources: BBC, The New York Times, The Verge