Elon Musk's Falcon Heavy rocket launches successfully


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Media captionLive: Falcon Heavy rocket launch

Elon Musk has just launched his new rocket, the Falcon Heavy, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The mammoth vehicle – the most powerful since the shuttle system – lifted clear of its pad without incident to soar high over the Atlantic Ocean.

It was billed as a risky test flight in advance of the lift-off.

The SpaceX CEO said the challenges of developing the new rocket meant the chances of a successful first outing might be only 50-50.

With this debut, the Falcon Heavy aims to become the most capable launch vehicle available.

It is designed to deliver a maximum payload to low-Earth orbit of 64 tonnes – the equivalent of putting five London double-decker buses in space

Such performance is slightly more than double that of the world’s next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy. But, says Mr Musk, at one third the cost.

For this experimental and uncertain mission, however, he decided on a much smaller and whimsical payload – his old cherry-red Tesla sports car.

A space-suited mannequin was strapped in the driver’s seat, and the radio set to play David Bowie’s classic hit Space Oddity on a loop.

If all phases of the flight are successful – and that will not be known until at least 6.5 hours after lift-off – the Tesla and its passenger will be despatched into an elliptical orbit around the Sun that reaches out as far as the Planet Mars.

The Falcon Heavy is essentially three of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 vehicles strapped together. And, as is the usual practice for SpaceX, all three boost stages – the lower segments of the rocket – returned to Earth to make controlled landings.

Two came back to touchdown zones on the Florida coast just south of Kennedy; the third booster is due to settle on a drone ship stationed several hundred km out at sea.



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