On Feb. 6, 2018, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy lifted off for the first time. It was a monumental moment for Elon Musk's private spaceflight company, after initially revealing the concept in 2011 and aiming for a 2013 launch.
The historic feat heralded a new dawn for commercial spaceflight, with SpaceX showing it can put big payloads into orbit at a fraction of the price of other heavy lift vehicles and retrieve the rocket boosters!
Here are some dazzling examples of just what the SpaceX Falcon Heavy can do -- and what it might do in the future.
Falcon Heavy's first launch was a long time coming. Originally, SpaceX planned to launch the vehicle from the west coast of the United States. After multiple delays pushed the flight back five years, it would eventually come to wait at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In a meeting six months before the first flight, Musk had declared "there's a real good chance the vehicle won't make it to orbit." Spoiler alert: It did.
The maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy had very special cargo: Elon Musk's midnight cherry red Tesla Roadster. The roadster's purpose was two-fold -- really, it would provide an opportunity for great publicity (the car has three cameras onboard for them Instagram-worthy snaps), but it also demonstrated the ability to drop a payload in space.
Falcon Heavy is, in essence, three SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. In total, the Heavy has 27 Merlin engines, nine from each booster, which can generate over 5 million pounds of thrust -- the same thrust as 18 Boeing 747 aircraft.
This image was nabbed during Falcon Heavy's second launch, showing all engines firing as the vehicle lifted off.
Falcon Heavy's first cargo and first dummy pilot was stationed in Musk's Tesla and dubbed "Starman" after the classic Bowie song. The Roadster and its driver were dropped into a heliocentric orbit that will take them out past Mars.
This was the last time we saw Starman before it rushed off into the great darkness of space. We're unlikely to see the Tesla return to Earth any time soon, with one study suggesting it will return in 2091.
Perhaps the most important achievement for the Falcon Heavy's test launch was landing the two side boosters that powered its ascent to orbit. SpaceX successfully had the boosters touch down in Landing Zones 1 and 2 not even 10 minutes after liftoff.
However, the central rocket booster wasn't quite so fortunate and ended up taking a bath in the Atlantic.
Published:Caption:Jackson RyanPhoto:Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET
A challenger approaches!
Though the Falcon Heavy is currently the world's most powerful rocket, NASA is currently developing a launch vehicle they've dubbed the Space Launch System.
Although the system has suffered numerous delays, if it is to get off the ground, it will take the title for the world's most powerful rocket back from SpaceX, generating over 8 million pounds of thrust.