With the inaugural launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket set for Tuesday, many are preparing for loud explosions and sonic booms. Beyond the historic launch of the world’s most potent rocket, SpaceX is planning something else extraordinary: the nearly simultaneous of the Falcon Heavy’s three rockets. The air will roar with a fiery thunder at launch, with sonic booms blasting as the rockets return. And that’s if all goes well; any failures could bring catastrophic fire to the launchpad, and the monster rocket loaded with fuel could create a massive fireball if something goes amiss.
While SpaceX has had great success with the Falcon9 rocket, there is some doubt about the performance of the unproven Falcon Heavy. Even Space X head Elon Musk has expressed doubt, suggesting it could “blow up on ascent.” Musk expressed his concern to NASA International Space Station program manager Kirk Shireman. “I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest.” Musk added, “Major pucker factor, really; that’s, like, the only way to describe it.” Musk says that the engineering behind the new rocket was extensive, and given how much of the machine the team hasn’t been able to test in the lab, that a failure, crash, or explosion is likely. He promises that no matter what, the first mission will be “exciting.”
Beyond the exciting launch, and equally dramatic landing will be quite the sight to see and hear. In addition to the primary mission of launching and delivering Falcon Heavy’s payload to its intended orbit, SpaceX is attempting the secondary mission of landing all three of Falcon Heavy’s first stage cores during this mission. Following booster separation, Falcon Heavy’s two side cores will return to land at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 (LZ-1 & 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” drone barge, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX has landed a first stage booster at Landing Zone 1 nine times prior to this mission and has successfully recovered Falcon 9 first stages from 12 missions at sea using the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships. Landing Zones 1 and 2 are built on the former site of Space Launch Complex 13, a U.S. Air Force rocket and missile testing range.
In a statement released yesterday, SpaceX alerts residents of the possibility of sonic booms. “There is the possibility that residents of Brevard, Indian River, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Volusia counties may hear one or more sonic booms during the landing attempts, ” SpaceX wrote. “Residents of Brevard County are most likely to hear one or more sonic booms, although what residents’ experience will depend on weather conditions and other factors.” A sonic boom is a brief thunder-like noise a person on the ground hears when an aircraft or other vehicle flies overhead faster than the speed of sound.