SpaceX test-fired all 27 Merlin rocket engines on its mammoth Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time today, throwing up clouds of smoke and steam and sending out the roll of thunder from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
The company’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, reported in a tweet that the hold-down firing was “good.”
“Launching in a week or so,” he said.
The three-core, 230-foot-tall Falcon Heavy is shaping up to become the world’s most powerful rocket in operation, with a liftoff thrust of 5.1 million pounds. Eventually it could be used to send payloads to the moon or Mars, but the first flight is designed solely to test its performance.
There will be at least one significant payload aboard, however: Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster sports car, which is meant to be sent into a widely looping orbit stretching out as far as Mars.
Falcon Heavy hold-down firing this morning was good. Generated quite a thunderhead of steam. Launching in a week or so. pic.twitter.com/npaqatbNir
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 24, 2018
Musk decided to put the car on the Falcon Heavy mostly out of a sense of whimsy. “I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” Musk explained in a tweet last month.
The car is also a payload that Musk can afford to lose: Last July, he said there’s a significant chance that the maiden launch could go awry.
“That requires the simultaneous ignition of 27 orbit-class engines. There’s a lot that could go wrong there,” Musk said. “I encourage people to come down to the Cape and see the first Falcon Heavy mission. It’s guaranteed to be exciting. … There’s a real good chance that that vehicle does not make it to orbit. I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly.”
Message received, Elon.