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09.48 7 Feb 2018


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Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster is heading further out into the solar system than originally planned.

SpaceX launched the world's most powerful rocket from Cape Canaveral yesterday sending the car into an orbit that could last a billion years.

The launch captured the imagination of millions of people all over the world, with the spectacular sight of the rocket’s two side boosters peeling away and landing back on earth - upright and in unison - serving to make it the most memorable night in spaceflight for nearly thirty years.

Video footage of 'Starman' heading out into the solar system 

The supercar, piloted by a mannequin nicknamed 'Starman' who is sporting the signature new SpaceX pressure suit, was due to enter an orbit around the sun similar to that occupied by Mars.

However, the rocket carrying the car has overshot its trajectory – and Starman is now heading out into the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Musk expects the car to remain in deep space orbit “for a billion years or so,” however it is unclear whether the new trajectory will doom the car to a future collision with some space object out in the belt.

Speaking to reporters in the hours after the launch, Musk also confirmed that the rocket’s central booster had crashed into the Atlantic at 300mph - missing the floating landing platform as it attempted to return.

He said the central core hit the water with such force that shrapnel flew onto the droneship's deck and took out two engines.

Launch

Image: SpaceX/Twitter

The 70-metre Falcon Heavy is powerful enough to carry a payload of 64 metric tons - twice that of its nearest rival - and because of the reusable boosters is also far cheaper - at about $90m per launch (£64m).

The next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, can put about half as much in orbit for four times the price.

Its payload capability is the biggest since the Apollo lunar programme's Saturn V.

Image: SpaceX/Twitter

Mars colony

The launch is viewed as an essential step in Musk's plan to establish a human colony on Mars and looks set to pave the way for far bigger commercial satellites being put into orbit.

The SpaceX rocket has already been booked to launch several large communications satellites and a test payload for US Air Force.

But Musk plans to go further - by the end of the year he wants to send two paying passengers around the Moon.

His ambitious plans to begin sending humans to Mars in 2024 will require the construction of a far bigger spacecraft – nicknamed the BFR (Big F**king Rocket).

The new rocket will also be designed to transport people to the Moon and Mars – as well as provide point-to-point travel on Earth. 

 

Falcon Heavy launches off historic Launch Complex 39A for its first flight.

A post shared by SpaceX (@spacex) on

Space race

Musk is not the only billionaire with space ambitions.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos also has a spaceflight company, Blue Origin, and is testing a reusable rocket to fly space tourists to the edge of space.

A larger orbital rocket, New Glenn, is also in the works that will compete against the likes of SpaceX to put satellites into orbit.


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