Assuming that the Falcon Heavy rocket leave the launchpad in one piece, later this evening Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster will be making its way into space to orbit the sun for a few…. million?… years. That’s what we call a test-flight.
And if you’re struggling to visualise just what that might look like SpaceX has done all of the work for you, in the shape of an animation showing what will happen if this evenings launch goes perfectly. Spoiler: It ends with a Tesla in space, a SpaceX spacesuit-wearing dummy behind the wheel with its elbow cocked out the side window. That’s one way to leave your mark on the universe.
But this is the ideal scenario, one which Elon Musk reckons has about a 50-50 chance of taking place. The other scenario is that something catastrophic happens on the launch pad and it’s unavailable for use while the crater is being filled in, paved over, and safety-checked. There is a lot of potential for problems when you’re sending three full-sized Falcon 9 rockets with a total of 27 Merlin engines capable of launching 64 tons towards space for the first time — and then trying to land the various rocket stages on the first go.
Musk, speaking to Ars Technica ahead of this evening’s Falcon Heavy test launch, is optimistic. He said “There’s a lot that could go wrong. A really tremendous amount. I really like to emphasize that the odds of success are not super high. I don’t want to jinx it—I’m tempted to say. Because I feel super optimistic. But I feel as though that optimism has no basis in fact. I feel like we’ve got a two-thirds chance of success, but in reality we only have a 50-50 chance.”
If you want to keep tabs on SpaceX’s launch this evening, return here just before 20:30 and catch the live stream. In the event that something goes wrong here, the same stream will be visible on SpaceX’s website. Because we kinda borrowed it from them in the first place.