Falcon Heavy test flight

Falcon Heavy test flight
Falcon Heavy Demo Mission (40126461851).jpg
Falcon Heavy liftoff from pad LC-39A
Rocket Falcon Heavy
Configuration Falcon Heavy R
Flight no. 1
Manufacturer SpaceX
Operator SpaceX
Date 20:45:00, 6 February 2018 (UTC) (2018-02-06T20:45:00Z)
Window 2 hours 30 minutes
Site Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S.
Pad Launch Complex 39
Outcome Success
Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster
Target orbit
Reference system Sun
Regime pseudo- Mars transfer orbit

The Falcon Heavy test flight (also known as Falcon Heavy demonstration mission) was the first attempt by SpaceX to launch a Falcon Heavy rocket on 6 February 2018 at 20:45 UTC. [1] The successful launch introduced the Falcon Heavy as the most powerful rocket in operation, [2] producing five million pounds-force (22 MN) of thrust and having more than twice the lift capacity of the NASA Space Shuttle launch system. [3]

Mission overview

The mission was the test flight of the Falcon Heavy launcher, intended to demonstrate the capability of the launcher while gathering telemetry throughout the flight.


The payload, Elon Musk's original Roadster, mounted on the payload adapter inside the payload fairing.

The dummy payload for this test flight was Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster, a sports car owned by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX stated that the payload had to be "something fun and without irreplaceable sentimental value". [1] Sitting in the driver's seat of the Roadster is "Starman", a dummy astronaut clad in a SpaceX spacesuit. [4] It has his right hand on the steering wheel and left elbow resting on the open window sill. Starman is named for the David Bowie song " Starman". [4] The car's sound system was looping the symbolic Bowie songs " Space Oddity" and " Life on Mars?". [5] [6]

It was launched with sufficient velocity to escape the Earth and enter an elliptic orbit around the Sun that crosses the orbit of Mars, reaching an aphelion (maximum distance from the Sun) of 1.67  AU. [7] During the early portion of its voyage it functioned as a broadcast device, sending video back to Earth for four hours. The Roadster remains attached to the second stage. [8]

This launcher demonstration made the Roadster the first consumer car sent into space. [9] Three manned rovers were sent to space on the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions in the 1970s, and these vehicles were left on the Moon. [10] The Roadster is one of two formerly manned vehicles (albeit not a manned space vehicle) derelict in solar orbit, joining LM-4 Snoopy, Apollo 10's lunar module ascent stage. [11] [12]

Also, included was Arch Mission 1.2, which is a crystal disk containing the Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of books, on the Tesla Roadster. [13]

Rocket configuration

Falcon Heavy flew in its reusable configuration, allowing for a landing approach of both side boosters and the central core. The side boosters consisted of two previously flown Falcon 9 first stages, being reused from the CRS-9 mission in July 2016 and the Thaicom 8 launch in May 2016. [14] The central core was newly built because it needs to support stronger forces during ascent, so that a regular first stage could not be used. The upper stage was the same as on a Falcon 9. [3] [4] [15]

Side boosters equipped with a nose cone have different aerodynamic properties than the usual Falcon 9 boosters with a cylindric interstage. For this reason, SpaceX equipped them with larger and sturdier grid fins made of titanium, to help guide the atmospheric descent accurately. [16] The central core, however, still used conventional aluminium grid fins, as its aerodynamic properties are very similar to those of a conventional Falcon 9 first stage.

The Roadster was mounted on the second stage using a custom-made payload adapter, and was encapsulated in a conventional fairing. [17] Falcon Heavy also supports the launch of Dragon capsules without a fairing. [18]


Last transmitted view en route away from Earth

The Falcon Heavy maiden flight was intended to accomplish several objectives:

  • launch the Falcon Heavy from the pad through the atmosphere, including Max Q flight phase;
  • separate the side booster cores from the continuing first stage center core and upper stage
  • return the two side boosters to Cape Canaveral and land them simultaneously at Landing Zones 1 and 2
  • separate the center core and light the upper stage to orbit insertion
  • land the central first stage booster core on an autonomous spaceport drone ship, the Of Course I Still Love You, in the Atlantic Ocean
  • relight the upper stage to orbit in the van Allen belts for several hours to show radiation resistance
  • relight the upper stage again to put the payload into its heliocentric orbit, demonstrating a lifetime for the upper stage suitable for geosynchronous orbit insertion.

The purpose of including the Roadster on the maiden flight was to demonstrate that the Falcon Heavy can launch payloads as far as the orbit of Mars, and it exceeded its projected route by extending its aphelion to near the asteroid belt beyond Mars (with a perihelion at the level of Earth's orbit) [19], but did not test or demonstrate the separation of the second stage and a payload.

The launch occurred at 3:45 PM EST, or 20:45 UTC, from Launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida; the Roadster was successfully placed in its orbit, and its two booster cores returned to land at Landing Zones 1 and 2 several minutes later. The sole objective not completed was the landing of the central core; while its fate was initially ambiguous due to signal loss and heavy smoke, Musk confirmed several hours after the launch that the booster had not survived the recovery attempt. [20] Because two of the three engines necessary to land were unable to reignite, the booster hit the water at 500 kilometres per hour, 100 metres away from the drone ship. [21] The final upper stage transfer burn to solar orbit produced an orbit that will be beyond the orbit of Mars at its furthest point from the sun. [22] [23]


As the launch was a success, most planned events took place in the planned point of time. As the central core landing burn wasn't performed correctly, the exact time of the landing attempt is not known. [24]

The mission timeline was (all times approximate): [1]

Time Event
T−01:28:00 Go/no go for propellant load
T−01:25:00 Kerosene loading underway
T−00:45:00 Liquid-oxygen loading underway
T−00:07:00 Start of engine chill
T−00:01:00 Start of pre-launch checks
T−00:01:00 Propellant-tank flight pressurisation
T−00:00:45 Go/no go for launch
T−00:00:05 Start of side-booster engine ignition sequence
T−00:00:03 Start of central-core boosters engines ignition sequence
T−00:00:00 Liftoff
T+00:01:06 Max Q (maximal aerodynamic pressure)
T+00:02:29 Boosters engines cutoff (BECO)
T+00:02:33 Side boosters separate from central core
T+00:02:50 Side boosters begin boostback burn
T+00:03:04 Central-core engine shutdown/main engine cutoff (MECO)
T+00:03:07 Central core and 2nd stage separate
T+00:03:15 2nd-stage engine starts
T+00:03:24 Central core begins boostback burn
T+00:03:49 Fairing jettisoning
T+00:06:41 Side cores begin entry burn
T+00:06:47 Central core begins entry burn
T+00:07:58 Side-cores landings
~T+00:08:19 Central-core landing (failed), exact time unknown
T+00:08:31 2nd-stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
T+00:28:22 2nd-stage engine restarts
T+00:28:52 2nd-stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
Test continued on an experimental 6-hour-long coast in Earth orbit through the Van Allen radiation belts, followed by two burns by the third stage to target a precessing elliptical orbit around the Sun.