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
0

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.


How does a one-ton dino hatch its eggs? Carefully

a reconstruction of oviraptorosour dinosaurs incubating eggs. (AFP/ Nagoya University)
Updated 16 May 2018
0

How does a one-ton dino hatch its eggs? Carefully

  • Large species may have not sat directly on their eggs
  • The incubation behavior of birds — such as adults sitting in the nest and possibly brooding — likely evolved from theropod dinosaurs




PARIS: Most dinosaurs buried their eggs and hoped for the best, but some species — including a few hefty ones — built nests and pampered unhatched offspring much as birds do today, researchers reported Wednesday.
Which raises an intriguing question: How did creatures nearly as heavy as a hippo brood eggs without squashing them?
“Large species may have not sat directly on their eggs,” explained Kohei Tanaka, a researcher at Nagoya University Museum and lead author of a study in Biology Letters that details the incubation strategy of feathered carnivores called oviraptorosaurs.
“Eggs are arranged in a circular pattern with a large central opening,” he told AFP, describing clutches of potato-shaped eggs found in China up to half-a-meter (20 inches) long and weighing up to seven kilos (15 pounds) each.
“The dinosaurs likely sat in the middle of the nest so that they didn’t crush the eggs.”
That didn’t keep the unborn dinos warm, but it may have protected them from predators and the elements, Tanaka speculated.
Modern birds descend from a large group of mostly carnivorous dinosaurs called theropods, all of which — including the fearsome T-rex — are thought to have laid eggs.
But very few theropods built nests, which is why the brooding displayed by oviraptorosaurs — a clade of several dozen species ranging from the turkey-sized Caudipteryx to the 1.4-ton Gigantoraptor — is so important.
“The incubation behavior of birds — such as adults sitting in the nest and possibly brooding — likely evolved from theropod dinosaurs,” said Tanaka. “Our research provides additional evidence.”
Oviraptorosaurs lived during the Cretaceous period, the 80 million years leading up to the asteroid or comet strike blamed for wiping out non-avian, terrestrial dinosaurs.
They had short snouts and beak-like jaws with few or no teeth, and some sported bony crests on their heads. Evidence of generous plumage — especially on the tail — has been found on several species.
Besides the spoke-like arrangement of the fossilized eggs, the eggshell itself provided further evidence that large oviraptorosaurs sat near their unborn progeny, not on top of them.
The eggs of big dinos, the researchers discovered, were more fragile than the eggs of smaller ones, which were clearly designed to carry more weight.
How big is too big to park a dino butt on top of unhatched eggs?
“That’s hard to say,” said Tanaka. “There is a gap in the data, but the threshold should be between 200 and 500 kilos (440 and 1,110 pounds).”
Oviraptorosaurs were falsely accused by early paleontologists of stealing the eggs so often found along side their fossil remains, giving rise to their name: “egg-thief lizards.”