SpaceX is about to host a press conference detailing the events of the Falcon Heavy launch and — hopefully — sharing what happened to the center core. The news conference won’t start until at least 6:45 p.m. Eastern, but it looks like it’s starting a bit later. Early reports indicated that the press conference wasn’t going to be live streamed, but now there’s a stream from ABC News, which you can watch above. This stream was shared on Twitter by writers for NASA Space Flight. Note: The stream above is going up and down periodically because of how many people are wanting to watch it. We’ll look for a new stream if it stays down.
We will update this story live with details about the press conference and what’s shared as soon as they are available. The first part of the Falcon Heavy Launch was a big success. Both side boosters landed perfectly. But we haven’t heard what happened to the center core.
Here’s what happened during the press conference.
During the press conference, Elon Musk announced that the center core looked like it ran out of the igniter on two of the three engines. It hit the water at 300 mph and, if the footage is ever found, it will be a “blooper reel.”
In a few hours, we’ll find out if the journey through the Van Allen Belt is successful, he said. The upper stage worked perfectly so far and has enough prop to do the TMI burn.
The side boosters are in very good condition and are re-flyable. But they are Block 3 and 4 and they’re only going to refly Block 5.
Musk said, “Seeing the two boosters land synchronized, just like the simulation…it can be quite a scalable approach… Doing many flights per day. It gives me a lot of faith for our next architecture, and interplanetary spaceship. … It gives me confidence that BFR is really quite workable.”
Musk jokingly said that you can tell Starman is real because it looks so fake. Colors in space come out looking crisper and if they did CGI, it would have been more realistic. “It looks like a normal car in space, and I kind of like the absurdity of that.” He added that the dashboard has a tiny Roadster with a tiny spaceman on it. “Silly things are important. Concrete is so boring. The imagery of it will get people around the world excited.”
Musk thinks this will encourage other companies and countries to get bigger and better. “Races are exciting,” he said, saying he wants another space race.
Musk added: “Our investment to date is probably more than I’d like to admit… We tried to cancel the Falcon Heavy program three times at SpaceX… We had to redesign the center core completely… I’m guessing our total investment is over half a billion, probably more.”
As far as the side cores coming down at the same time, Musk corrected that they were offset slightly so the radars didn’t interfere. “It was meant to happen just like that.”
The battery on the Tesla, he said, would last about 12 hours from launch. After that, it will just be in space for millions and billions of years. Maybe if someone comes across it millions of years from now, they’ll be really confused, he laughed.
“I hope that next burn works, by the way. We’ll know in a few hours,” he said.
As far as Mars and the Moon, Musk said they could do short hopper flights with the spaceship part of BFR, maybe next year. He later clarified this statement. Hopper tests are like taking off and landing from a test site. “We’ll either do that at our south Texas launch site near Brownsville or do ship to ship.” They need to land with no one around in case something goes wrong.
“We’ll do flights of increasing complexity. We want to test the heat shield material, fly out, turn around, accelerate back real hard, and come in hot to test the heat shield. We want a highly reusable heat shield capable of absorbing heat from interplanetary velocities…”
As far as a timeline for the moon or Mars, there are a lot of uncertainties, he said. Now that they’re almost done with Falcon Heavy, they’re going to level off with Version 5. Dragon will level off with Dragon Version 2. After that, most engineering resources will be dedicated to BFR, which will help speed things up.
“The ship part is by far the hardest…” It will come from Mars and Moon transfer velocities, which are harder than coming in from low orbit, he explained. “They are some heating things that scale to the eighth power,” he shared as an example.
“I think we understand reasonable boosters. Reasonable spaceships that can land propulsively – that’s harder. I think it’s conceivable that we do our first test flight in three or four years. … It would be capable of going to the moon shortly thereafter.”
Then a Redditor showed up from the SpaceX community. He asked about Starman’s spacesuit.
“There’s a mannequin inside,” Musk said. “That’s the actual production design… That’s the real deal. I figured, it’s a dangerous trip, you want to look good. It took us three years to design that spacesuit. That’s real hard. … It’s really difficult to make a spacesuit that looks good and works.”
Next, someone asked if Elon sees himself in a space race with Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. He didn’t answer that question.
A reporter asked for a status about when we might see an astronaut in lower orbit or Mars. Musk confirmed they’re almost done with the Falcon Heavy Block V, and then all hands on deck for Crew Dragon. “We’re aspiring to fly crew to orbit at the end of this year. That’s our goal.”
That concludes the press conference.
What’s next for the Tesla as it travels through space? The mission will continue on an experimental long coast through the Van Allen radiation belts, which could last five to six hours. This leaves more things to chance, such as the fuel possibly freezing, oxygen vaporizing, and other issues that could hurt the rocket’s ability to reach trans-Mars injection. Problems at that stage might mean that the Roadster doesn’t escape Earth’s orbit but burns up in the atmosphere instead. If the coast stage is successful, the Roadster will then separate from the upper stage, targeting a heliocentric orbit. In other words, it will orbit the sun and be in close proximity to Mars during certain points of its orbit. The rocket’s payload stage will pop off the fairing’s two halves, exposing the Tesla Roadster. Yes, a bright red Tesla is indeed being sent off into space.
According to SpaceX’s animation, the Tesla Roadster will then coast in hyperbolic orbit to Mars at about seven miles per second. The Tesla won’t actually get as close to Mars as SpaceX’s animation showed. “It will be in an elliptical orbit with one part of the ellipse being at Earth orbit and one part being at Mars orbit, so it will essentially be an Earth–Mars cycler,” Musk said to Florida Today. “We estimate it’ll be in that orbit for several hundred million years, maybe even in excess of a billion years.”
We will update this story with details from the press conference as soon as they are available.