SpaceX's Falcon Heavy launch: Here's how and when it'll happen

02-05 01:45

Falcon Heavy conducted its first static test fire at Kennedy Space Center.

Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

SpaceX finally has an official launch window for the demonstration blastoff of its long-awaited Falcon Heavy rocket , the most powerful since the mighty Saturn V that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon. 

The Federal Aviation Administration gave its official blessing to the launch when it issued a license to SpaceX on Friday for "A flight of the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) transporting the modified Tesla Roadster (mass simulator) to a hyperbolic orbit."

That's right. The federal government has just granted Elon Musk permission to send his electric sports car into space. 

SpaceX confirmed in a release on Saturday that it's targeting the launch for Tuesday during a two-and-a-half hour window that begins at 10:30 a.m. PT Tuesday. So if all goes perfectly, Falcon Heavy will fire up its 27 Merlin engines at that time, but all launches, especially a demonstration launch like this one, are subject to delays.

The launch will be steeped in history and symbolism: It will take place from the same launchpad that NASA used for Apollo 11 to send Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. Musk views Falcon Heavy as a key steppingstone to returning humans to destinations beyond orbit, including the moon and Mars

But Musk on multiple occasions has also attempted to lower expectations for Falcon Heavy's first launch , warning that it may end in spectacular, but explosive failure.

Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 2, 2017

If Musk's Roadster and Falcon Heavy do survive liftoff and the journey out of Earth's gravity well, we could be treated to another sort of spectacle: SpaceX's first attempt at landing three first-stage rocket boosters nearly simultaneously.

Falcon Heavy is basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together and topped with a second stage rocket and the payload. The two side boosters will attempt to land ashore at SpaceX's Landing Zones 1 and 2 (LZ-1 & LZ-2) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, while the center booster is set to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic.

As if all that weren't enough excitement, the landing attempts could be accompanied by up to three sonic booms that SpaceX warns may be heard across a six-county area in Florida.

As of Saturday, weather was looking about 80 percent favorable for the launch on Tuesday and slightly less favorable should it slip to the backup launch window on Wednesday.

SpaceX typically streams all of its launches live online. Once the feed is up, we'll embed it below, so keep checking back.

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