Tesla’s Roadster is a Rocket — Or At Least Attached to One

SpaceX uses first-gen Roadster as ballast for test flight.

by on Feb.07, 2018

It wasn't enough to put cement in the capsule on the Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX. Elon Musk stuffed a first-gen Tesla Roadster i

It will be a few years before anyone gets to buy the new Tesla Roadster, but you might say it got off the ground in a big way this week.

In a move combining elements of P.T. Barnum and Werner von Braun, SpaceX staged the first flight test of its new Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday. The world’s most powerful rocket may soon be used to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and, if SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has his way, eventually to Mars.

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Never shy about putting on a show, Musk wound up turning an otherwise routine test flight into an event creating an image touching on two iconic pictures from the Apollo era: Earth rise from lunar orbit and Neil Armstrong making the first walk on the moon.

But in this case, the shot reveals “Starman,” a life-size dummy wearing SpaceX’s designed spacesuit, taking a casual spin around the planet in — wait for it — a Tesla Roadster. Since the new version won’t be available for a couple of years, as previously mentioned, SpaceX’s “astronaut” had to settle for the company’s original roadster.

Appropriately enough, Starman had a theme on his flight, “Space Oddity,” the ever-popular song by David Bowie about an astronaut on a mission to Mars.

SpaceX loads a first-generation Tesla Roadster into the Falcon Heavy rocket.

(Tesla denying more production troubles with the Model 3. Click Here for the story.)

Why should he get all the fun? Well, it turns out that SpaceX engineers needed to find some form of ballast to fill up the Falcon Heavy’s cargo bay for its maiden voyage.

Since the company couldn’t fly conventional cargo for the test flight, normally it would have opted for something like steel or concrete but, “That seemed extremely boring,” said Musk, during a post lift-off media conference call. “Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel.”

Musk’s two main ventures, Tesla and SpaceX have staged cross-promotional events on a number of occasions. Indeed, the rocket company hosted the introduction of the battery-car company’s upcoming electric semi truck last autumn.

And the new Roadster put in an unexpected appearance during that event, rolling out from a hiding place in the back of one of the 18-wheelers.

Musk clearly has a fondness for the car, no surprise considering the original Roadster was Tesla’s first product. Now, some have quibbled with the use of the name for the new model. It is more convertible sports car than classic Roadster. But that hasn’t deterred fans, some of whom reportedly have plunked down deposits of more than $200,000 to get early versions.

(Click Here for more about Elon Musk giving Twitter followers a look behind the curtain.)

Though it won’t deliver quite the thrust of a Falcon Heavy, it will blast out a jaw-dropping 7,400 pound-feet of torque, Musk promised last autumn, more than six times as much as the new Bugatti Chiron, one of the world’s fastest cars, and launch from 0 to 60 in just less than two seconds. And, as a 2+2, it will carry nearly as many passengers as the new SpaceX rocket ship.

With 27 rockets clustered in the main launch stage, the Falcon Heavy is a behemoth, dwarfed perhaps only by NASA’s old Saturn V when it comes to exploring space beyond Earth orbit. It does do something that the U.S. space agency never accomplished, allowing its rocket boosters to return to terra firma for reuse. In this case, the two side boosters flew back to Cape Canaveral, extended legs and touched back down simultaneously and side-by-side.

SpaceX will have to settle for being second to put a car in space, however. Three electric vehicles, developed in part by General Motors, were used in late Apollo missions.

Like David Bowie’s astronaut, however, Starman gets to head towards Mars. The Roadster rode atop the Falcon’s second stage and will first be placed into Earth orbit. Then after a second burn of the upper stage Merlin engine it will do loops towards the altitude where geosynchronous satellites are stationed.

“We’re going to be testing something on this flight which we’ve never done before, a six-hour coast in deep space that’s going to go through the Van Allen belts,” said Musk during a briefing ahead of the flight. “So, it is going to get whacked [by radiation] pretty hard.”

(To see more about Tesla holding Musk to a higher standard for compensation, Click Here.)

Ultimately, after a third burn, the Roadster and Starman get tossed into what Musk described as a “billion-year elliptical orbit” of the sun, which will take it out towards Mars but never let Starman actually test out all that torque on the surface of the Red Planet.

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