After nearly seven years of varying concepts, redesigns, and delays, SpaceX is poised to launch the Falcon Heavy rocket next week on its maiden flight. Last week, SpaceX performed a hold-down firing of the massive rocket's 27 engines, creating a towering exhaust plume and jolting the space coast with over 5 million pounds of thrust. It was the most powerful engine test ever conducted at Kennedy Space Center—and with a successful liftoff, the Falcon Heavy would be the most powerful launch vehicle in the world.
At Cape Canaveral, the nearby Visitor Complex has already sold out of its close launch viewing spots for Tuesday, February 6. That's when SpaceX will attempt to launch its new rocket from Space Launch Complex 39A, during a three-hour window opening at 1:30 PM Eastern. Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who launched off the same pad toward the moon in 1969, will be in there. Another notable audience member? Harrison Ford, who has a special connection with the rocket: The Falcon Heavy gets its name from Han Solo's ship in Star Wars.
For most of the world, a livestream view will have to do, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been encouraging people to tune in. But he's managing expectations: Falcon Heavy may not reach orbit, and simply not destroying such a historic launch pad would be a "win." And though SpaceX originally signed a 20-year lease with NASA for the facility, that doesn't guarantee they'll always be a tenant.
At least a dozen reporters from New York City alone are flying into Cape Canaveral next week to cover the mission—about the number that show up, total, for routine satellite launches. It'll be a far cry from the crowd that Musk spoke to in 2011, at the first public unveiling of the Falcon Heavy concept.
At the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the billionaire stood awkwardly between two identically printed posters of Falcon Heavy mock-ups—significantly smaller than the vehicle SpaceX eventually built. The low-rent presentation offered a grounded vision from a Musk who had not yet launched into the consumer flamethrower market. The Space Shuttle's final launch was just two months away, Musk noted, leaving NASA without a crew vehicle and a powerful launcher. Falcon Heavy could fill that gap.