The launch of the first SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy is almost upon us – with many of us eagerly awaiting the announcement of launch window.
The mission ….. ?
To test fly the three core Falcon 9 based launch vehicle by sending a dummy payload
into a long heliocentric solar orbit.
In order to test any new vehicle is it is quite common to use a dummy payload on the first mission and it’s at that point my opinion and that of many others, differs.
Elon recently revealed that his payload of choice to act as the “dummy load” would be his own Tesla sport car.
The image displayed in the header and below shows the Tesla Roadster, already mounted on a modified satellite adapter structure, being enclosed inside the rocket’s payload fairing.
I know from interaction on social media that many people think this is great. What a legend Elon is to do something so cool!
So before I go any further, I will say that I too am a great fan of Elon and SpaceX and their endeavors so far.
They have made giant leaps in spacecraft reuseability with multiple flights of the falcon first stage and Dragon capsules.
I too watched the journey through many “oooh , so close” moments during the early sub optimal falcon first stage landings and was stunned, delighted and truly thrilled to see that first successful landing during the ORBCOMM 2 mission at the end of December 2015. I’m still amazed every time I watch a launch and landing – even to the point where I have interacted with Elon on Twitter about the crush core in the landing legs.
Now I know all too well that there are big risks when it comes to the first flight of this new vehicle.
Will they successfully get all 27 motors to light simultaneously, will the redesigned main airframe take the excessive vibrational harmonics generated by the boosters, and what will happen to the vehicle as is passes MaxQ as this is very difficult to model.
Elon himself voiced his concerns, stating openly that there is a “real good chance that that vehicle does not make it to orbit. I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly. I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage — I would consider even that a win, to be honest.”
That being said …..
I really do feel like this is a missed opportunity.
Are we really saying that the best dummy load we could use is a red sports car?
Of all the things we might want to send in to space for an immeasurably long time ….. are we really saying that this is the best we can do ??
It just seems more than a little clichéd – a PR stunt, a flippant piece of showmanship.
Even after acknowledging the risks, wouldn’t this have made an amazing outreach opportunity for the scientific world ?? And if no-one wanted to take the risk (which i seriously doubt would be the case), Elon and SpaceX could have made a hugely definitive statement by engaging with the wider world to find / generate / create a more culturally or artistically relevant item to launch.
As a final note to this post …… Elon also offered an ‘expectation-setting’ tweet, saying the launch was … “guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another” and on that front, I cannot disagree!