Elon Musk and the senior leadership team at SpaceX are working overtime to prepare the Falcon Heavy for its first trip to space later this week. They are also managing everyone’s expectations to ensure that nobody thinks that a failed launch means the end of the company.
And they are pushing that line hard.
In fact, the narrative being peddled by the company is that this is not even a launch – just a test, even though the vessel is supposed to enter orbit. And based on the public’s response to previous mishaps and disasters, keeping everyone’s expectations low is probably the appropriate course. Why? Because there is an enormous amount that can go wrong.
The Falcon Heavy, should this launch be successful, will become the most powerful rocket in existence. This is been accomplished by creating an incredibly effective and powerful rocket, and then combining 27 of them on the vessel. That’s 27 separate rockets, and if just one should fail, it’s highly likely the entire vessel would be destroyed. We can all remember the tragic Challenger explosion that eventuated from an issue with a single component on a single booster rocket. And while the Falcon Heavy’s rockets have been tested to an extraordinarily high level on earth, it’s impossible to duplicate the kind of pressure they will be placed under during launch.
Importantly, there will be no humans on board, but there will be a precious piece of cargo. One of Elon Musk’s cars (a Tesla of course) will be in the cargo hold. However, this somewhat comedic act underlies a potentially disastrous outcome for SpaceX.
If the rocket explodes in the upper atmosphere, it will be easy for the company to demonstrate the value of the launch through analytics and test results. The media arm will swing into action and tell the world that it’s actually a good thing that the rocket came down in several million pieces.
But, if the rocket explodes too close to the launchpad, then the likelihood of another launch over the next 12-24 months is almost non-existent. The Falcon Heavy will take off from pad 39a at the Kennedy Space Centre, this is also the only pad that is capable of launching the SpaceX vessel, “Crew Dragon” which will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Without the platform and its unique crew walkway, everything will need to be rebuilt.
SpaceX has a lot riding on this week’s launch – much more than they are letting on.