Falcon Heavy pre-launch checks (photo:SpaceX)
Arrived early for best camera position
Kennedy Space Center (Tanya does not approve of my fashion choices)
Historic Launch Pad 39A
Go baby, go!
Off to Mars
Side Booster separation
Side Booster Retrofire to return for landing
Landing at Canaveral
Cruising along to Mars (Starman picture courtesy of SpaceX)
Happy Monday! While I travel in France to cover an amazing film release, Pete is guest blogging today. He brings you so many great technology posts that I asked him to write about his trip attending the Falcon Heavy launch last week. Pete is like a kid in a candy store when it comes to NASA, SpaceX and anything space related (including Star Trek, Star Wars, you name it) so it seems fitting that he bring you this once in a lifetime experience.
Enjoy! xoxo- Tanya
First Flight of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy
Those of you who know me know that I have always been a space enthusiast. One of the few regrets in life was that I never attended a Saturn 5 launch. But then came SpaceX – enter the Falcon Heavy. This big fella can lift almost three times as much payload into orbit as the Shuttle. My hope for seeing a massive rocket launch was born again. So last week, I was fortunate enough to be present for the first flight of the world’s most powerful rocket.
Last Tuesday, SpaceX flew the Falcon Heavy for the first time and it used NASA’s Pad 39A. I was able to get a couple of passes to what was the Space Shuttle VIP viewing area, just a short 3.9 miles from the Pad. The history of 39A includes many Apollo/Saturn missions (including Apollo 11), about half the Shuttle missions, and now is exclusively leased to SpaceX.
We arrived around 6:30am for the scheduled 1:30pm launch to beat the anticipated crowds. We waited with great anticipation until about 11:30 when fueling the Heavy was postponed…winds at high altitudes had caused a liftoff delay. The afternoon was spent praying for the winds to die down but experiencing delay after delay. Then the fueling was cleared to begin and the new liftoff time was set to 3:45pm, just before the end of the launch window. But from there things went perfectly! Liftoff occurred at exactly 3:45 and the Falcon Heavy and its payload, Elon Musk’s own cherry red Tesla Roadster with Starman (a dummy) as the driver were off to see space and maybe Mars. Click here to watch a video from SpaceX to see how exciting the launch was!
As the countdown approached T -5 seconds, the side boosters’ 18 Merlin engines were lit in a staggered fashion to reduce vibrations on the Heavy. At T-3, the main booster started its 9 engines. At T -0 the Heavy’s computer released the hold-down clamps and the Heavy was off to make history. I was following the launch through the lens of my Canon 5D with a Canon 300mm f3.5 zoom lens and didn’t really notice that the sound took 20 seconds to reach me. When I first heard it I thought, “huh, not too impressive” until I was blown away 7 or 8 seconds later when I heard, no, felt, the power of all 27 engines!
I tracked the Heavy through BECO (booster engine cutoff) for the side boosters and got some great shots of the two boosters being left behind by the Heavy as the Center Core engines kept burning. I was amazed to be able to snap some shots of this since the Heavy was 40 miles into space at this point. I then got some shots of the side boosters during their return to earth burn. The Heavy was too far away to see the MECO (main engine cutoff) and the Center Core booster separation, but by then we were looking for the side boosters to appear on their way to land about 10 miles away at Cape Canaveral.
About T +6:50 we identified the side boosters flying/falling back for landing. About T +7:40 we saw the two boosters performing their landing burns, perfectly framed by the huge Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch tower for the new NASA SLS. We were all cheering when we were again overwhelmed by sound – sonic booms from the side boosters as they returned to earth. The booms happened earlier, but took 40 or 50 seconds to reach us.
The Heavy was now headed into its initial orbit with the ignition of the Merlin 1D second stage and the main core was going to land on the recovery barge named “Of course I still love you” 400 miles out in the Atlantic. The former was successful, the latter, not so much. The Center Core ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea at 300 miles an hour just 200 feet from the recovery barge. Later, the second stage engine with its cargo of Starman and the red roadster would perform two more burns. The first put the vehicle into a 4300 mile high parking orbit. The second burn powered the vehicle toward Mars and beyond. Both burns were successful and the vehicle is now in a heliocentric (sun centered) orbit that crosses the orbit of Mars. Starman may someday see the red planed as he whizzes by. The vehicle may sustain this orbit for a billion years or more.
Learning lesson: Always attend a historic launch! – Pete
About Pete Foster
Peter Foster is an avid technologist, engineer and fan of US space operations. He has over 25 years’ experience as CEO of technology companies, 12 US Patents, has co-authored a book on speech recognition and is an instrument-rated private pilot with over 2500 hours.Tags: Florida, Pete Foster