There Was More to the SpaceX Launch Than Just Starman
When Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched its now famous Falcon Heavy rocket from South Florida last month, all the media attention was focused on the Rockets payload: a Tesla Roadster complete with a mannequin driver Musk affectionately dubbed ‘Starman’. The world was mesmerized, but there was much more to launch than just Starman.
Media reports indicate that Musk chose a Tesla Roadster and Starman, both meaningless in terms of their value as payload because of the media attention it would garner. It was a smart move. Musk wants the general public to understand the advances SpaceX is making in rocketry, as a precursor to getting them on board with the company’s plans for future space travel. If SpaceX can get people excited about space travel via Starman, then it is mission accomplished.
Goals of the Launch
It is obvious that putting a Tesla Roadster in space with a mannequin driver was not a major goal nor a milestone. So what was the point? The point of the car and its driver was to generate publicity. The goal of the launch itself was to test SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy technology. The company has to develop lighter, more cost-effective rockets capable of carrying heavier payloads if they ever hope to achieve their dream of sending a manned mission to Mars.
Also bear in mind that SpaceX is hoping to start offering commercial space travel to the general public at some point. To make that a reality, they need something as durable as the space shuttle but significantly less expensive. Learning more about rocketry and the materials used in it is key to making commercial space travel a realistic goal.
The Falcon Heavy is a rocket essentially created by combining three smaller Falcon rockets into a single vehicle. Large portions of the payload section were made with composite materials, including carbon fiber, to reduce weight without compromising strength. The center section of the rocket was also constructed using composite materials and an aluminum core covered in carbon fiber sheets.
SpaceX engineers say that the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket ever built. They say it can carry a payload equivalent to a 737 jet full of fuel, passengers, crew, and luggage. More importantly, it can do so at a fraction of the cost of other rockets carrying significantly less payload.
Cost and Capacity the Real Targets
At Rock West Composites outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, customers are looking for the same things that SpaceX is working to accomplish. They want reliable products with the highest possible capacity at the lowest cost. That’s really what Falcon Heavy is all about.
Rock West explains that cost and capacity are the real targets Starman is shooting for. Orbiting Mars, at this point, is valueless. But if Starman and subsequent launches eventually do make it to Mars fully intact, SpaceX will have accomplished something pretty impressive.
Yes, we have launched unmanned drones that successfully landed on Mars and beamed home impressive pictures of the Red Planet. But a single, light drone is nothing compared to a fully equipped space vehicle carrying a crew and tons of supplies necessary to establish a Mars outpost.
Colonizing Mars is already a stated goal of SpaceX founder Elon Musk. It is unlikely the company will achieve that goal in his lifetime, but that isn’t stopping them from aggressively pursuing it. Falcon Heavy was a step in that direction. By combining composite materials with what engineers already know about rocketry, the company was able to put a heavy payload into space at a comparably lower cost.