Elon Musk is a very eccentric CEO. As the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, he could very well be called the real life Tony Stark. We know his SpaceX company for innovating reusable rockets, when even NASA, with its federal budget, has not been able to execute the idea.
NASA even uses SpaceX’s Falcon rockets to bring supplies to the International Space Station, as the reusable rocket concept made space launches a lot less expensive. This is where SpaceX gets its revenues from.
Now, Elon Musk has developed a new Falcon Heavy rocket designed to carry, well, heavy payloads, and to demonstrate the payload capabilities, the CEO said he will be putting his own Tesla Roadster into space. When everyone heard his announcement, they thought he was joking.
But he wasn’t. Elon Musk started releasing pictures of his Tesla Roadster being loaded into the Falcon Heavy rocket, silencing skeptics in the process. A dummy named Starman is sitting at the driver’s seat, which will presumably send data and numbers about the conditions of space back to Earth.
And he has really done it. He put his freakin’ Tesla Roadster into orbit! This guy’s insane! While some were concerned that the Tesla Roadster will just add to the already increasing amount of space junk orbiting Earth, the Tesla Roadster will actually go deeper into space.
That’s because, the Tesla Roadster will go into what is called a heliocentric orbit. A heliocentric orbit means that it is orbiting around the barycenter of the two objects. In this case, the Sun and the Tesla Roadster. The center of its circular path isn’t really the center of the Sun. Rather, the center is located very near the Sun’s surface. Its barycenter means it is where the center of mass of the two objects orbiting each other are located.
While it may seem to be a well-planned publicity stunt, it actually isn’t, as Popular Mechanics points out, putting the Tesla Roadster into heliocentric orbit around the Sun actually has a research purpose.
“The “Muskmobile” will go into a type of heliocentric orbit called Trans-Mars injection, which it is the easiest and least energy-intensive way to move objects back and forth between Earth and Mars.
At specific moments every two years, the conditions are right to fire up the spacecraft’s engines and slide from one orbit to the other. A future transportation network that supplies a Martian colony would benefit from this kind of scheduling. Think of Musk’s car like a city bus on a scheduled run through the solar system, slung this way and that to take advantage of the gravitational pull of the sun to make it easier to get into Earth or Martian orbits.
Since the Tesla doesn’t have thrusters, it won’t make that jump into Martian orbit. It’ll be a Flying Dutchman, careening through the solar system for billions of years. Even so, the opportunity for a private company to launch anything on a jaunt through the solar system is itself a game changer. The fact that the launch may help lay the groundwork for industrialization and colonization makes this far more than a publicity stunt.”
The launch also serves as a demonstration that if anyone desires to send something into space in the near future, it can be done very affordably, and very frequently, thanks to SpaceX’s reusable rockets. Just seeing the rockets for the Falcon Heavy land back into the surface of the Earth like a sychronized swimmer is nothing short of astounding.
In the past, NASA’s challenge has always been its very expensive space launches. The rockets used for launching its instruments or equipment outside the influence of Earth’s gravity has always returned back by crashing into the ocean. The rockets therefore are either rendered unusable, and a new one has to be made, or extensive work has to be made in order to reuse the rocket again.
This is the reason why, in recent years, there has been a gradual move to let private companies do the heavy work of space travel, which is developing the rockets itself. Most of the launches are still coordinated with NASA, such as which astronauts to send up to space, but the actual lifting is done by SpaceX. Think of a sugar producing company outsourcing its shipping services to a different company to reduce cost. The bottom line is that, the goal is to make space launches cheaper and more frequent, since private companies are able to develop and build the (reusable) rockets, and then allow the US government to simply borrow these rockets.
In short, NASA wants to outsource the transportation part of space missions to companies like SpaceX. If we always thought of the future as being able to go to space whenever we wish, SpaceX has just made that future closer to the present.