SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy took flight Tuesday, and everything appears to be going seamlessly.
Around 3:45 pm ET, the world’s most powerful rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
About two and a half minutes after launch, the two side boosters on the rocket detached and headed back to Earth.
Thousands of onlookers could be heard cheering through SpaceX’s livestream.
The rocket is built by SpaceX, the game-changing company helmed by billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
In the run up to launch, it wasn’t at all clear whether the rocket would work.
“People [came] from all around the world to see what will either be a great rocket launch or the best fireworks display they’ve ever seen,” Elon Musk said in an interview with CNN’s Rachel Crane.
SpaceX has shaken up the rocket industry by becoming the first company to successfully reuse rocket boosters in order to bring down the cost of spaceflight. To do that, it guides the rockets back to Earth for a safe landing after sending their payloads toward orbit.
Why does it matter?
This rocket will have thrust equal to 18 Boeing 747 jetliners.
It’ll also be the most powerful rocket currently in operation — and one of the most powerful ever built. The most powerful rocket in history was NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which was used for the Apollo moon landings and was retired in the 1970s.
The more thrust a rocket has, the farther it can travel and the bigger the satellite, spacecraft or other payload it can send into orbit.
That opens up a whole range of business opportunities for SpaceX, which has been leading a new era of spaceflight in which companies — not just governments — drive the industry forward.
What is it sending to space?
For this test mission, the Falcon Heavy will launch a dummy payload. Specifically, it’ll send a cherry red Tesla roadster from Musk’s personal collection into deep space. There’s no scientific reason to send the car to space. But it does serve as self-promotion for Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla.
When asked on Twitter why he wanted to throw away a $100,000 car, he replied, “I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.”
Once the Falcon Heavy has proven it can fly, the rocket can start doing its real job of hauling satellites and other payloads into orbit.
The rocket is already signed up to carry three hefty telecommunications satellites into orbit.
The U.S. Air Force also plans to use a Falcon Heavy to launch a payload dubbed STP-2 that includes some weather forecasting satellites.
SpaceX also said in early 2017 that two space tourists put down a deposit to ride on a Falcon Heavy for a trip around the moon. At the time, SpaceX said that trip could occur in 2018, though the company hasn’t offered any updates.
How much does it cost?
The Falcon Heavy has a $90 million sticker price. That’s 45% more expensive than the Falcon 9 rocket SpaceX has used for every mission going back to 2012.
But the Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9s strapped together, and it’ll boast about three times the thrust of the Falcon 9.
And, compared to rockets that better rival the Falcon Heavy’s power, it’s a bargain.
The Delta IV Heavy, which is built by legacy aerospace firm United Launch Alliance and is currently the world’s most powerful rocket, can reportedly cost as much as $400 million per launch.
It should also be noted that the Falcon Heavy will out-power the Delta IV Heavy by a factor of two.