In case you missed the news this week, there’s a red Roadster now in orbit. Elon Musk’s private spacefaring company, SpaceX, had a milestone rocket launch this week. It’s primary Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket, took a unique addition with it. Of course, it was a product of Musk’s other company – Tesla.
Depending on your timezone, on the 7th February 2018, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with a Tesla Roadster on-board was launched. It was the first time a private company was attempting to reach beyond Earth’s orbit. But aside from that, they also included a convertible car with a spacesuit-wearing mannequin.
The Roadster has actually gone further into the Solar System than intended. Much like sea currents, the car was supposed to end up on a path that rotates around the Sun and branches off towards a Mars’ orbit.
However, the rocket carrying the Roadster overshot that trajectory and put the Tesla in an orbit that extends beyond Mars. It also won’t make its way to the asteroid belt which was the original aim/claim.
As the trip was live-streamed by SpaceX, the Tesla Roadster was watched cruising through space for about six hours. As part of the “coast phase”, a special orbital manoeuvre was meant to be showed off for the US Air Force. Then the rocket was to complete a final engine burn in space to put the car into its final orbit. But there were reports of that burn happening over the Southern California region. Onlookers reported sightings of the rocket illuminating the night sky.
Musk tweeted an image of a map that showed the Roadster’s final orbit after the burn. It also displayed how far the car was supposed to have travelled. In addition, it appeared as though it would head for the asteroid belt. On the map, the Roadster was apparently relatively close to the orbit of the planet Ceres.
After astronomers picked up some discrepancies, SpaceX sent a revised orbit on Wednesday to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now, the car will travel further out than the orbit of Mars, but still not far enough to get to the asteroid belt. The asteroid belt starts about 529.5 million kilometres from the Sun and the Roadster is bound to only reach a distance of 257.5 million kilometres from the Sun.
But it was known before the launch that there was a slim chance of the Roadster reaching Mars. An astrophysicist at Harvard and spaceflight expert, Jonathan McDowell, estimates that the Roadster makes its closest approach to Mars in October of 2020. At which point it will be in a range of 6.9 million kilometres. McDowell is of the opinion, or rather from his calculations, that the Roadster will come “close to Earth” in March 2021. At that point, it will be within 45 million kilometres of Earth.
Journey of the Roadster
A Tesla in space demonstrates the capabilities of the Falcon Heavy and getting objects into deep space. The possibility of sending things to the asteroid belt has also been demonstrated. As they work to mine water from planets and asteroids, I bet the next goal will getting cars to the Red Planet.
Plenty and plenty of memes have surfaced the internet, much to why I titled it as Musk breaks the internet. But here are the images from the live feed of the Roadster: