SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket soars in debut test launch

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The Falcon Heavy rocket rose Tuesday from the same Florida launch pad used by NASA almost 50 years ago to send men to the moon.

The tech billionaire has repeatedly played down expectations for the launch, saying that the mission might end in explosion. The hulking rocket is intended for massive satellites, like those used by the USA military and major-league communication companies. Test flights could start in the next decade. The Falcon Heavy and its Roadster payload accelerating to speeds beyond 20,000km/h to break away from Earth's gravity and speed for a Mars flyby. In addition to SpaceX, Musk runs the electric auto maker Tesla.

Thousands traveled to the Space Coast to witness the 3:45 p.m. ET demonstration flight from Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A, jamming roads for hours after liftoff of the world's most powerful rocket. Typical ballast for a rocket debut is usually concrete or steel slabs, or experiments.

If you're just catching up to the action, we've answered all the questions you need to know before next month's launch. Finally, a thruster has to fire to put the vehicle on the right orbital course, which is probably what Tripathi described in his tweet and what California residents saw Tuesday night.

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Eventually, the rocket's second stage will try to place the Roadster, playing David Bowie's Space Oddity, into a Mars-adjacent orbit. In a 2015 interview he said the spaceship from the book was his favorite from science fiction. Or it can fire a relatively lightweight Tesla Roadster sports vehicle towards the planet Mars. As big a goal this is, at the rate SpaceX development is going we may see more Teslas in space in the near future. It has to endure a cosmic bombardment during several hours of cruising through the highly charged Van Allen radiation belts encircling Earth.

The closely held Southern California company defied industry critics by flying the world's most powerful rocket-carrying a Tesla roadster as a dummy payload and publicity stunt-since US astronauts landed on the Moon nearly five decades ago.

Win or lose, the Heavy already is rattling the launch market. The company also announced that it had placed "an "Arch" storage system containing Isaac Asimov's Foundation book series". A plaque contains the names of the more than 6,000 SpaceX employees. According to the company, it will cost just $90 million per launch, a fraction of the price of similar heavy-lift rockets. "It is not as resource-rich as general, Mars is far better-suited ultimately to scale up to be a self-sustaining civilization". The company said in February a year ago that the rocket would send two people on a trip around the moon, but Musk said there's been a change of plans.

The cost to develop the rocket and spacecraft is estimated at $10 billion.