Graphic: How SpaceX plans to take another step toward the moon, Mars


Tuesday's inaugural SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch rocket is SpaceX's 230-foot-tall answer to heavy-lift demands, which will allow the company to boost heavier payloads to orbit and target moon and Mars missions. Though technically far more complex, it appears to be three Falcon 9 cores strapped together. A look at how it works: The Falcon Heavy rocket configuration will generate thrust equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft at liftoff and is designed to one day carry humans into space. At a set altitude, the two first stage rocket booster engines are cut off. A pneumatic stage separation system releases them from the main rocket. The main rocket continues to fire as the boosters fall away. The first stage boosters undergo a flip maneuver using onboard cold gas thrusters. Their engines do a temporary burn, setting it on a trajectory for the landing site. Once beyond Earth's atmosphere, the first stage releases from stage two. A single engine propels stage two into orbit. Like the boosters before it, the first stage rocket undergoes a flip maneuver. Its engines ignite briefly and it heads on a trajectory for the landing site. After performing a second flip maneuver, the rocket's grid fins deploy and engines do a temporary burn to slow it down. The grid fins steer the rocket as it enters Earth's atmosphere. Landing legs deploy and an engine fires a final time to land the first stage rocket safely on a designated landing platform on an autonomous drone ship at sea. The previous two boosters rockets touched down on ground-based landing pads. Meanwhile, the second stage rocket has shed the fairing protecting its payload, Elon Musk's personal red Tesla Roadster, releasing it into a heliocentric orbit that will take it past Mars.