Last week, SpaceX rolled out its new Falcon Heavy rocket to one of the company’s Florida launchpads, turning the vehicle upright for the very first time. Now SpaceX has released stunning photos and video from that exercise, showing off the vertical, fully assembled Falcon Heavy in all its glory on the pad it’s going to take off from later this month.
On Thursday, SpaceX did what is known as a “fit check” of the rocket, to see if the Falcon Heavy can travel to its primary launchpad, called LC-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and stand upright on the site. The pad was originally used by NASA to support launches of the Saturn V rocket to the Moon, as well as launches of the Space Shuttle. But in 2014, SpaceX leased the site from NASA and modified it to accommodate flights of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. It has recently been updated even more to accommodate the bigger Falcon Heavy, which consists of three Falcon 9 cores strapped together.
Though the Falcon Heavy finally made it to the pad last week, it didn’t see too much action and was laid horizontal about a day later. The next big step for the vehicle is what is known as a static fire — a major test to see if the rocket’s engines are working properly and ready for flight. Sometime soon, SpaceX will stand the Falcon Heavy upright on the LC-39A pad again and ignite all 27 of the rocket’s engines while the vehicle is constrained. The exercise is meant to run through the major steps of launch, such as loading propellant and engine firing.
That test needs to go well in order for SpaceX to be confident enough to launch the vehicle. This vehicle won’t be launching any scientific payloads, but instead will loft SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster. In fact, the car is already enclosed in its nose cone. (It was on top of the Falcon Heavy for this rollout.) SpaceX plans to send the car into an orbit around the Sun that will take it as far out as Mars’ orbit. Oh, and it will be playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity during launch.
But first the static fire has to go well. Once that happens, the company will likely pick a target launch date, and then we may finally see the Falcon Heavy fly.