That maneuver was intended to demonstrate to the U.S. Air Force that the Falcon Heavy could meet specific orbit-insertion requirements for the heaviest national security satellites.
Then the second-stage engine successfully restarted one more time to propel the Tesla toward its intended orbit. The final burn likely took place right over Los Angeles around 6:30 p.m. Pacific time and would have been visible to the naked eye, said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Launches for the National Reconnaissance Office typically require a rocket to coast in space for several hours before restarting its second-stage engine to deliver a satellite to its orbit, so the latter part of SpaceX's mission was one of the most significant parts of this demonstration, McDowell said. Where the car ended up afterward was less important, he added.
"It's just a proof of, 'OK, we know how this rocket works, and it works well enough to send a decent payload well beyond the Earth,'" McDowell said. "Mars comes into it because they were confident they could get it that far, and plus, Elon's all about Mars."
One of Musk's long-standing goals has been to colonize Mars. He has said his next-generation rocket and spaceship system, known as BFR, will take people to the Red Planet.
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