Elon Musk has made good on his promise to send a cherry-red Tesla Roadster into orbit.
On Tuesday, SpaceX successfully tested its Falcon Heavy rocket, sending its payload of a single Tesla Roadster into orbit. The Tesla made a few quick rounds around the Earth before a secondary rocket fired and sent the now celestial roadster on a journey around the sun.
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Instagram on Wednesday to update his millions of space-nut followers as to the current status of the roadster, along with its human dummy passenger, Starman. "Last pic of Starman in Roadster enroute to Mars orbit and then the Asteroid Belt," wrote the eccentric billionaire even as the Roadster continued to careen through outer space.
However, while the Roadster was launched into solar orbit as planned, it seems that it now will not reach the Asteroid Belt as Musk promised.
The final burn from within Earth orbit occurred Wednesday evening at 9:30 p.m. The glare of the rockets was so bright that residents over Southern California could see the white light of burning rocket fuel as the Falcon Heavy’s payload jetted off into the dark. The last orbit around Earth was apparently a maneuver tested for the US Air Force.
It was originally planned for that last burn to send the Tesla into a far enough solar orbit to go beyond Mars and even make it to the Asteroid belt in close proximity to the dwarf planet Ceres.
Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt. pic.twitter.com/bKhRN73WHF— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 7, 2018
But Thursday morning SpaceX admitted to NASA that Starman and his intergalactic ride won’t quite reach the Asteroid Belt. The Belt is approximately 329 million miles from Sun, but now the Tesla will only reach 160 million miles at best (click on "target body - 143205" for the details).
The closest the Roadster will come to Mars is about 4.3 million miles, which is practically touching noses in terms of outer space, but it won’t actually happen until the year 2020 according to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard and spaceflight expert.
Using the JPL ephemeris, the closest predicted approach to Mars between now and 2030 is 7 million km on 2020 Oct 8. This is still well outside Mars' gravitational sphere of influence— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) February 8, 2018
Still, the test is certainly a successful demonstration of the Falcon Heavy’s capabilities. Maybe next time Musk will get it all the way to Jupiter.