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Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster is ready for Falcon Heavy flight

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, December 22, 2017, 7:15 PM -

Elon Musk really wasn't kidding. SpaceX really is going to launch his red Tesla Roadster into space for the inaugural test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket in January.

It seemed like a joke at the time, when Elon Musk tweeted about launching his car to Mars before the end of 2017. We knew that the Falcon Heavy wasn't going to be ready before January. So, the whole thing must be just him having a bit of fun.

Send a red car to the red planet. That's a good one.

But hold on. It's true!

First, Musk gave us these awesome views of the Falcon Heavy in the hangar at Cape Canaveral.

With this little tidbit, we at least knew that the first test flight of this new rocket was coming up soon. This alone was great news, as this rocket booster will be the most powerful in flight, currently, and is the prime candidate that will take us to the Moon and Mars!

Then, Musk dropped a new post onto Instagram.


That is, indeed, a Midnight Red Tesla Roadster, mounted on the base that will be attached to the top of the Falcon Heavy central booster, and those are the twin fairings that will protect the car on its launch into space.

Musk said, in the Instagram post: "Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring. Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel. The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing [David Bowie's] Space Oddity, on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit."

Now, Musk's Tesla Roadster isn't headed for an orbit around Mars. The orbit he's referring to is one that traces an ellipse around the Sun, coming as close to the Sun as Earth's orbit, and as far away from the Sun as Mars' orbit. Specifically, this has been called the Hohmann transfer orbit, named after the German scientist, Walter Hohmann, who came up with the idea. Normally, the end result of the Hohmann transfer orbit is that the spacecraft either slows down to enter Mars' orbit, or it dives into Mars' atmosphere for a landing. In this case, Musk intends the car to simply continue orbiting around the Sun along that ellipse, for the next billion years.

Since there are very specific dates where the Hohmann transfer orbit will actually link Earth to Mars, it's doubtful that Musk's car will end up passing by Mars anytime soon. There is a launch date on April 30, 2018, that gets a spacecraft to Mars in January of 2019 via the Hohmann transfer orbit, but that's too long a wait. The timing may be off by enough that it will take tens, hundreds, or thousands of years (or possibly even longer) for the red car and the red planet to actually end up near each other.

Maybe that's what he meant by "billion year elliptic Mars orbit"?

In any case, keep a lookout for the launch date of the Falcon Heavy, to watch SpaceX conduct the test of this new, very not boring rocket.

Source: Elon Musk/SpaceX

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