SpaceX is set to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time, carrying CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla sports car as its cargo.

The first test flight of Falcon Heavy is scheduled for 6 February at 1:30pm ET (6:30pm GMT), with the launch window remaining open for three hours.

It will launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and, if successful, enter into an orbit around the Sun known as a Hohmann transfer orbit, which would take the car as far out from the Sun as the distance of Mars’ orbit.

Falcon Heavy is twice as powerful as any previous rocket, with the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 tonnes. Its five million pounds of lift-off thrust equals approximately 18 Boeing 747 aircraft at full power.

SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 rocket launches satellites into orbit and carries cargo to the International Space Station. The Falcon Heavy will use three Falcon 9 engine cores to power the first stage.

The two outer cores will break away during ascent and attempt to land back on Earth at Cape Canaveral. The centre core will also return to land in the Atlantic on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships.

A successful mission could have big implications for the space industry. For example, the extra thrust offers the capacity to carry heavier payloads—such as bigger satellites—into orbit.

How disruptive will the COVID-19 outbreak be on aerospace supply chains?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Musk claims Falcon Heavy will cost $90 million per flight, as opposed to NASA’s own heavy rocket that is under development, which would cost closer to $1 billion per flight.

Falcon Heavy’s comparative affordability and partial reusability could see the resurgence of space missions to the moon, and the sending of larger robots to Mars. SpaceX also plans to one day send commercial passengers to space.

Later this year SpaceX plans to use Falcon Heavy to launch two large telecommunication satellites into a geostationary orbit some 36,000km above Earth.

Weather conditions are currently at 80% ‘go’ and 70% for a backup launch time tomorrow, according to the 45th Space Wing’s Weather Squadron, which monitors weather for air and space operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Centre.

Musk announced the project in 2011, but has faced many delays in launching Falcon Heavy. Recent landing and rocket tests, however, have proven successful.

While no human passengers will be on board, Musk’s Tesla sports car will seat a dummy wearing a SpaceX spacesuit, with the stereo playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity on a loop.

Musk estimated that it would be in orbit for ‘several hundred million years, maybe in excess of a billion years’ and that three cameras attached would provide ‘epic views’.