SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy rocket, made up of two previously-flown Falcon 9 boosters and a beefed up central core stage, made the trip to launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and was raised vertical Thursday for testing ahead of its first liftoff next month.
The fully-assembled 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket will be the most powerful in the world when it blasts off, and Thursday’s arrival atop pad 39A marks a major step toward readying the Falcon Heavy for flight.
SpaceX engineers conducted a fit check and completed other tests at pad 39A this week, to followed by a hold-down firing of all 27 first stage engines some time after New Year’s Day. The company has not set a target date for the Falcon Heavy’s first liftoff, but officials say the launch is targeted in January, some time after the hold-down hotfire test.
The rocket was lowered back to a horizontal position before dawn Friday.
The Falcon Heavy’s inaugural test launch will have a dummy payload on-board, but SpaceX has readied a flashier, more colorful passenger than the boilerplates and water ballast carried on previous test flights of new heavy-lift launchers.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk decided to place one of his Tesla Roadsters on-board the Falcon Heavy, a cherry red creation from Musk’s electric car company.
The Falcon Heavy will attempt to give the automobile enough speed to escape the grasp of Earth’s gravity, sending it into a heliocentric solar orbit that will take it to the approximate distance of Mars from the sun.