Private interstellar travel startup SpaceX baffled uninformed onlookers with its holiday test launch of the Falcon 9, leading to erroneous reports of a UFO over Southern California. The test marked the company’s 18th mission for 2017, capping off an impressive year not just for SpaceX but all of entrepreneur and tech guru Elon Musk’s projects. The inventor also made significant progress with his public transportation Hyperloop project and, for automobile fans, gave a tantalizing look at Tesla’s much anticipated line of electric semi trucks.
After the holiday test launch of the Falcon 9, many are already anticipating SpaceX’s planned launches for 2018. The company will begin the year with the first test of its Falcon Heavy, a more powerful rework of its other Falcon craft. While it incorporates features from older iterations, the Heavy is on course to take the record as the world’s most powerful rocket, as it is twice as powerful as the Delta IV Heavy, a United Launch Alliance that currently holds the record. While the craft’s powerful engines have already been tested while on the ground in NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, January will most likely see the first aerial test of the Falcon Heavy.
In a move that should boost the profile of both Tesla and SpaceX, founder and CEO Elon Musk has chosen an interesting payload for the Falcon Heavy: a midnight cherry red Tesla Roadster. The color of the car is a fitting choice given that SpaceX is planning on aiming its first test launch of the Falcon Heavy squarely at the so-called “red planet,” Mars. Musk told Instagram followers that test launches of this type typically use concrete or steel to help simulate the massive payloads they’ll carry, but that the company “decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel.”
If all goes according to plan, the craft and its sporty payload will reach space and then journey “on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit.” Musk initially teased the idea of sending one of his Tesla vehicles to space in early December, but many dismissed the statement as a joke. However, photos of the Tesla Roadster firmly loaded onto the rocket have dispelled all doubt about the attention-grabbing payload. It’s unclear when precisely SpaceX plans to test the Heavy, but January remains a distinct possibility. The company also has three Falcon 9 tests scheduled that month so either way SpaceX will enter the new year with a bang.