SpaceX is poised to launch its Falcon Heavy demonstration mission from Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
According to the company, when Falcon Heavy lifts off, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, with the ability to lift more than twice the payload of the next vehicle, at one-third the cost. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit.
Three cores make up the first stage of Falcon Heavy. The side cores, or boosters, are connected to the center core at its base and at the vehicle's interstage. With a total of 27 Merlin engines, Falcon Heavy's three cores are capable of generating more than 5 million pounds of thrust.
For this test flight, Falcon Heavy's two side cores are both flight-proven. One launched the Thaicom 8 satellite in May 2016 and the other supported the Dragon CRS-9 mission in July 2016. SpaceX will attempt to land all three of Falcon Heavy's first stage cores during this test.
Following booster separation, Falcon Heavy's two side cores will attempt to land at SpaceX's Landing Zones 1 and 2 (LZ-1 and LZ-2) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Falcon Heavy's center core will attempt to land on the "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
The payload for Falcon Heavy's demonstration mission is SpaceX CEO and lead designer Elon Musk's midnight-cherry Tesla Roadster. Demonstration missions like this one typically carry steel or concrete blocks as mass simulators, but SpaceX decided it would be more worthwhile to launch something fun and without irreplaceable sentimental value: a red Roadster for the red planet.
Following launch, Falcon Heavy's second stage will attempt to place the Roadster into a precessing Earth-Mars elliptical orbit around the sun.
This mission is a test flight. Even if SpaceX does not complete all of the milestones that are being attempted during this test, the company will be gathering data throughout the mission. Ultimately, a successful demonstration mission will be measured by the quality of information SpaceX can gather to improve the launch vehicle for its existing and future customers.