It’s been almost 50 years since the original Saturn 5 rocket took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon—and now, a new spacecraft for the 21st century is poised to make its mark. The Falcon Heavy, a new rocket being released by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, is heading for the launchpad, according to The New York Times. It’s expected to be the world’s most powerful rocket since the Saturn 5.
The Falcon Heavy is essentially a souped-up version of the company’s “workhorse” rocket, the Falcon 9, which has already had a number of successful launches, and one memorably unsuccessful one.
For Musk, this new project represents an exciting cross-promotional initiative: he plans to send a Tesla roadster up in the Falcon Heavy. Musk is hopeful that with the right technology, the Tesla vehicle could travel around the sun for millions upon millions of orbits.
“I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” Musk explained in a recent Twitter post about the project.
If the Falcon Heavy launch is successful, it could have major implications for space travel in both the short term and the long. Eventually, the hope is that the Falcon Heavy could give NASA astronauts a faster and more affordable way of traveling to the moon and back; in the meantime, the rocket could also help Musk compete for new contracts, such as potentially launching government spy satellites.
First, though, the Falcon Heavy has to get off the ground. Simply making that happen has been difficult so far. Musk’s company had to deal with a launchpad mishap in September 2016, destroying both a rocket and a $200 million satellite. It wasn’t until 2017 that SpaceX settled into a consistent rhythm, sending rockets into orbit without complication.
Whether the Falcon Heavy is successful or not, this will be a busy year for SpaceX either way. The company is hoping to schedule over 30 flights in 2018; they may include a project for the defense contractor Northrop Grumman as well as test flights for the Crew Dragon, a capsule intended for carrying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
The launch is scheduled for February 6, 2018.
Photo: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Nadezda Murmakova / Shutterstock.com