The last launch of a Falcon 9 rocket in 2017 was spectacular, with many skywatchers in California confusing the Friday night flight for an alien spacecraft. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, never one to miss the opportunity for a joke, happily sided with the aliens theory and even went a step further.
Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea pic.twitter.com/GUIHpKkkp5
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 23, 2017
Perhaps as a reaction to the number of reports that popped up soon after the launch, referring to the Falcon 9 as a UFO sighting, Musk seemed to find it not so funny anymore.
But somewhere between joking about aliens and musing about people’s attraction to conspiracy theories, Musk shared another post on his Twitter account, building up the hype (as if there isn’t enough already) for the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy in January. The most powerful rocket today, Falcon Heavy is made up of three Falcon 9 cores and has three times the thrust.
Falcon Heavy was originally scheduled for its test launch in the third quarter of 2015, but multiple delays moved the date first to 2016, then to various quarters of 2017, and eventually to December. So this January launch, whose exact date hasn’t yet been specified, could be delayed yet again, and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
However, the massive rocket has been moved to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, from where it will launch, and Musk shared the first-ever photographs of the rocket from the space center.
The rocket’s first mission is to deliver a payload — Musk’s own midnight cherry Tesla Roadster, playing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” — to an orbit around Mars. Someone asked Musk on Twitter if the Roadster was up for grabs if it was found in the Mars orbit, and he just said “Yes.”
SpaceX will likely launch a Falcon 9 earlier in January, though, to deliver the secretive Zuma payload for the United States government to orbit. Delayed from November, the launch window is now between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST on Jan. 4.
The Falcon 9 has two more launches toward the end of January, which may actually spill over into February. The payload for one is a communications satellite developed by SES and the government of Luxembourg, and the other will carry an Airbus-built imaging satellite for Spain’s Hisdesat.
Also in the first quarter of 2018, SpaceX will launch the next set of Iridium satellites (the Friday launch was also carrying Iridium satellites) as well as another communications satellite for SES. Both companies have been customers of the company for long.
Other SpaceX launches expected by March 2018 include two more communications satellites, one each for Spain’s Hispasat and for the Bangladesh government. There is also another trip for the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, SpaceX’s fourteenth such. And if all goes well with the Falcon Heavy test, there may be a commercial mission for the rocket too, to launch a communications satellite for Saudi Arabia.