SpaceX Falcon Heavy poised for debut test launch with Tesla Roadster payload

The Tesla Roadster will serve as a mock payload for the highly anticipated debut test flight of the new Falcon Heavy jumbo rocket, set for liftoff as early as Tuesday. (Courtesy Elon Musk Instagram)
Updated 05 February 2018
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SpaceX Falcon Heavy poised for debut test launch with Tesla Roadster payload

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A scarlet Tesla Roadster from the assembly line of Elon Musk’s pioneering electric automobile business is poised this week to go where no sports car has gone before — outer space.
The sleek, battery-powered hot rod is serving as a mock payload for the highly anticipated debut test flight of Musk’s new Falcon Heavy jumbo rocket, set for liftoff as early as Tuesday by his other transportation venture, Space Exploration Technologies.
If the launch succeeds, the Falcon Heavy will rank as the most powerful rocket in operation today, and the mightiest space vehicle to blast off from the United States since NASA’s Saturn 5 rockets last carried astronauts to the moon 45 years ago.
It would likely give California-based SpaceX a leg up on rival commercial rocket companies seeking major contracts with NASA, the US military, satellite companies and even paying space tourists.
Propelled by 27 engines supplying three times the thrust of SpaceX’s current workhorse Falcon 9 booster, the Falcon Heavy is essentially constructed from three Falcon 9s bolted together side-by-side, with the nose cone and payload capping the middle rocket.
The spacecraft is set for liftoff from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida — the same pad used by the Saturn 5 that carried Apollo 11’s three-man crew on their historic 1969 mission culminating in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first human steps on the lunar surface.
The “passenger” riding atop the Falcon Heavy will be setting a more whimsical record as the first car sent into solar orbit — a deliberately droll bit of high-stakes, high-tech cross-promotion dreamed up by Musk himself.
“I love the thought of a car driving apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” the billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX founder said in a Twitter post last month.
The Falcon Heavy is actually designed to carry payloads of much greater heft than a sports car, with SpaceX boasting its ability to place roughly 70 tons into standard low-Earth orbit at a cost of $90 million per launch.
That is twice the lift capacity of the biggest existing rocket in America’s space fleet — the Delta 4 Heavy of SpaceX rival United Launch Alliance (ULA), a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing — for about a fourth the cost.
The new rocket also would give SpaceX entry to two key arenas requiring higher lift capacity than a single Falcon 9 provides — geostationary orbital missions to deliver satellites that circle Earth’s equator at the same pace as the planet’s rotation, and for human exploration beyond Earth.
Arrival of the Falcon Heavy puts it in competition with the next big rocket under development by NASA as well, the heavy-lift Space Launch System, or SLS, which will be far more powerful than SpaceX’s new jumbo rocket but also much more expensive to fly.
The Trump administration recently signaled that NASA may contract with a commercial provider to launch the first component of its Deep Space Gateway, a lunar-orbiting research outpost planned as a successor to the International Space Station in the next decade and a jumping-off point for missions to Mars.
SpaceX already has lined up its first three paying missions for the Falcon Heavy, including the planned launch of two paying passengers on a tourist trip around the moon.
Like the Falcon 9 that came before it, the Falcon Heavy is built to capitalize on SpaceX’s cost-cutting reusable rocket technology, with each of the three main-stage boosters designed to fly back to Earth after launch.
The two side-boosters are supposed to touch down on landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, while the central booster should land itself on a drone ship in the Atlantic.


First sounds of wind on Mars captured by InSight spacecraft

Updated 09 December 2018
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First sounds of wind on Mars captured by InSight spacecraft

  • 20 second audio clip shows sound of wind on Mars
  • Clip also supports evidence of wind speed and direction on Mars

DUBAI: An audio clip of the first sounds captured on Mars by its latest inhabitant, the InSight probe, was released last week, British broadcaster BBC reported.

The clip, 20 seconds long, has captured the sound of the wind on the desert planet.

InSight carries a British-made seismometer package, which was able to detect the vibrations from Martian air rushing over the solar panels.

Professor Tom Pike, leading the seismometer experiment from Imperial College London, likened the placement of the solar panels to the robot “cupping its ears”. “[They are] the perfect acoustic receivers.” he said.

The wind on Mars moves from the northeast to the southeast at about five to seven meters per second, according to the latest estimates. This falls in line with evidence shown by satellite pictures that display the tracks left by dust devils travelling in the same direction.

 “This is brilliant news because it means we know the sensors have survived the rigors of landing on Mars and are meeting the requirements to achieve their science goals,” Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency, told the BBC.

“It is just amazing to hear the first ever sounds from Mars,” Horne added.

InSight landed on Mars on November 26th, following a six-month journey from Earth. Its overall aim is to study the world's interior from the mission site, a flat plain just north of Mars's equator.