Maverick billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has successfully fired a car into space on a privately funded rocket that is now the most powerful in the world.
The Falcon Heavy SpaceX rocket was successfully fired into space from Florida last week as part of a test of its capabilities. These tests commonly carry worthless payloads like concrete, but as he normally does, Musk wanted to do things a bit different.
The SpaceX rocket instead carried a cherry red electric car made by Tesla, Musk’s other company. The car was successfully launched into an elliptical orbit between Earth and Mars, with an end of goal of taking it as close as possible to Mars.
But on Wednesday, Musk tweeted that the car has now gone beyond the Mars orbit and is on track to enter an asteroid belt.
The convertible car is carrying a mannequin dressed in a space suit, dubbed ‘Starman’ after the David Bowie song. Also on board the car is a smaller, Hot Wheels version of the car with a tiny version of Starman. The names of more than 5,000 SpaceX employees are also written onto the hardware below the car.
“I think it looks so ridiculous and impossible,” Musk said.
“You can tell it’s real because it looks so fake, honestly. It’s still tripping me out. It’s kind of silly and fun. But silly and fun things are important. Normally for a new rocket, they’d launch like a block of concrete or something. That’s so boring.”
The car was meant to travel to Mars but not collide with the planet. If it now manages to somehow make it through the asteroid belt, it is expected to continue orbiting for millions of years.
The car is now being tracked and catalogued by NASA, which has classified it as a Near-Earth Object.
The Falcon Heavy is made of three Falcon 9 rockets combined, making enough thrust to launch 64,000kg into low-Earth orbit. The launch proved the rocket is the most powerful in use today, with more than twice the thrust of its nearest rival.
The Falcon Heavy rocket is meant to be used for launching huge satellites into orbit.
Musk’s ultimate ambition is to put humans on Mars. The success of those lofty goal is riding on SpaceX’s next rocket, the BFR – “Big F*cking Rocket”. This rocket is expected to be test-launched in the mid-2020s.
What of Tesla?
The successful rocket launch captured the world’s attention last week, but just a day later, Musk’s electric car company Tesla posted a gigantic quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion. The company has been suffering from production issues, and posited a $US780 million loss in the last quarter.
The company now has an annual loss of $US2.2 billion and has mounting debt. Musk said Tesla had been “overconfident and complacent”.
Musk has also enjoyed a big presence in Australia recently, especially in South Australia.
In November last year, Tesla delivered on its promise to build the largest grid-connected, lithium-ion battery system in the world in South Australia within 100 days following a Twitter bet between Musk and Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes.
Musk has said this battery has been “exceeding its performance targets significantly”.
“Due to the success of this project, we’re seeing an increase in demand for Powerpack, our commercial energy storage product,” he said.
“With more electric utilities and governments around the world recognising the reliability, environmental and economic benefits of this product, it’s clear that there is a huge opportunity for us in large scale energy storage.”
The SA government also recently announced that it had again partnered with Tesla to launch the world’s largest virtual power plant, with at least 50,000 homes to be given free solar panels and batteries.
“My government has already delivered the world’s biggest battery, now we will deliver the world’s largest virtual power plant,” SA premier Jay Weatherill said.
Now, to flame-throwers
No stranger to strange, controversial and attention-grabbing stunts, Musk also recently sold 20,000 flame-throwers. For $US500 each, the flamethrowers are “thrilling without danger”, he said.
The money from the flamethrowers is going towards Musk’s other venture, The Boring Company, which is aiming to create an underground system of tunnels to improve congestion.
The plan has been met with a large amount of criticism though, and the flame-throwers have been banned in several jurisdictions.
California assemblyman Miguel Santiago is one of several politicians planning to legislate to ban the flame-throwers from being sold, and said the product “feels like a complete slap in the face”.
“There are many times in which technology and inventions benefit society, but are not made available to the public,” Santiago said.
“We don’t allow people to walk in off the street and purchase military-grade tanks or armour-piercing ammunition. I cannot even begin to imagine the problems a flame-thrower would cause firefighters and police officers alike.”
Musk has previously suggested that the flame-throwers could be used to roast nuts.