SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket remains on track for its first flight test Feb. 6 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to company founder Elon Musk.
“The weather’s looking good, the rocket’s looking good,” Musk told reporters by phone late Feb. 5. “It’s either going to be an exciting success or an exciting failure.”
The rocket is scheduled to lift off at about 1:30 p.m. Eastern time and fly into deep space, where it will coast for six hours and put a cherry-red Tesla Roadster into orbit. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos wished his fellow space entrepreneur success, tweeting, “Best of luck @SpaceX with the Falcon Heavy launch tomorrow – hoping for a beautiful, nominal flight!”
If the flight is successful, the Falcon Heavy will be ready to launch commercial satellites on its next mission, which could occur in three to six months, Musk said. A failure, especially one that severely damages the launch pad, could set back the Falcon Heavy by up to a year.
“If it blows up the pad, that’s going to be a real pain in the neck,” he said.
SpaceX has been developing the Falcon Heavy for years to carry large payloads. The rocket’s engines underwent a static fire test Jan. 24 (Defense Daily, Jan. 24).
“I’m sure we’ve done everything we could do to maximize the chance of success on this mission," Musk said.
The Air Force, a potential Falcon Heavy customer, is monitoring the launch, as SpaceX is seeking Air Force certification of the three-booster rocket, a service spokesman said. The Falcon Heavy could compete against the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 500 series and ULA's Delta IV Heavy.
A launch failure would delay the Air Force from using the Falcon Heavy, said Bill Ostrove, an aerospace/defense analyst at Forecast International.
“The Air Force tends to be cautious when deciding on launch providers for its satellites,” Ostrove said. “This is important considering the high cost of government satellites.”
Musk told reporters that SpaceX has suspended plans to have the Falcon Heavy approved to transport people, saying that development of the even larger Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) is progressing quickly. The spaceship portion of BFR could begin short flight tests as early as next year.
Musk announced in September that SpaceX had begun developing BFR to start colonizing Mars (Defense Daily, Sept. 29, 2017).