By Mike Augustyniak

For the first time in history, SpaceX will attempt to launch it’s Falcon Heavy rocket into space later today; the first of many tests for a vehicle that will eventually take humans back to the moon, or to Mars.

Continue to monitor the upper level wind shear. New T-0 is 3:45 p.m. EST, 20:45 UTC.

SpaceX Tweeted earlier this morning that the weather forecast is highly favorable for the launch to occur within the 2.5-hour launch window.

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UPDATE: Just before 11 am CT the earliest possible launch time was pushed back, due to wind shear, to 1:20pm CT.

UPDATE #2: my colleague Irene Sans, on-site at Kennedy Space Center, reports the launch has been pushed back yet again, to no earlier than 2:15 pm CT.

UPDATE #3: Irene tells me 2:45 pm CT is the new no-earlier-than time.

If the launch doesn’t occur on Tuesday before the launch window closes at 3:00 pm CT, SpaceX will attempt to launch again on Wednesday Feb. 7th.

LET THE NEXT SPACE RACE BEGIN

If (when!) the launch is successful Falcon Heavy will become the most powerful operational rocket in the world, with 5 million pounds of thrust, than double that of the current record holder, the Delta IV Heavy rocket.  That amount of power will allow Falcon Heavy to boost a payload weighing up to 64 metric tons (the equivalent of a fully-loaded 737) into space.

NASA is currently building their Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that, when complete in late 2019, will have 8 million pounds of thrust, and the ability to lift 70 metric tons of payload into space.

NO RISK, NO REWARD

For several reasons today’s test launch comes with a fair amount of pressure for SpaceX and it’s founder Elon Musk, who estimated the chance of success around 50-50.

First, SpaceX has already had a high-profile and explosive failure in the past. The September 2016 explosion of a fully-fueled Falcon9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 40 destroyed not only that rocket’s satellite payload but also the launchpad itself. A similar catastrophic failure at Kennedy Space Center’s 39A launch complex today’s would set the Falcon Heavy project back months to years, as 39A is the only launchpad from which Falcon Heavy can currently launch.

Secondly, the rocket’s 27 Merlin engines are mounted in groups of 9 on 3 separate cores. For the first time ever, SpaceX will try to return all 3 engine cores back to earth simultaneously. Two will attempt to return to land on the Florida coast; one will attempt to land on an unmanned barge in the Atlantic Ocean. In theory, all three could be used to fly again, leading SpaceX to say that its cost-to-launch is one-third that of Delta IV Heavy rocket.

If all goes well the launch and recovery will be a highly choreographed ballet of immense proportions and power, and will play out according to the graphic above.  Stay tuned for updates!

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