Starman Heading To Asteroid Belt

When Elon Musk's SpaceX made history with the launch of the Falcon Heavy from Cape Canaveral this week, part of that was because of the rocket's dummy payload: Elon Musk's cherry red Tesla Roadster, complete with a spacesuited mannequin in the driver's seat.

"Starman," who has become something of a celebrity due to a live stream of him circling, and finally "driving away" from Earth, was supposed to be taking up a long-period cycling orbit between Earth and Mars.

Though Starman would never get close to Earth again, it would become an object that would get to within a theoretical cargo transfer distance of Earth and Mars.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Red Planet.

After a planned radiation soak of the Falcon Heavy's second stage in the Van Allen Belts of Earth, SpaceX engineers triggered a third burn of the upper stage engines.

And those engines burned longer than the Mars orbit plan had called for.

As a result, the new orbit for Starman and the Tesla Roadster is one that will carry it into the asteroid belt, where it will cross the orbit of the Dwarf Planet Ceres.

There continues to be speculation in some quarters as to whether the final burn was accidentally longer than intended, or whether it was a deliberate test of the parameters of the booster.

Either way, the initial orbit has the characteristics of a cometary trajectory, which means a sweep into the colder reaches of deep space before a return to the inner solar system.

And, either by accident or design, SpaceX has just dramatically shown that a region of our solar system that was previously inaccessible commercially is now within reach.

Simply put, the Falcon Heavy has demonstrated that it can get a payload into the asteroid belt.


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