Red Roadster Heads For Interplanetary Space — See It In Orbit

The Tesla Roadstar is now in orbit around the sun. This photo of it was taken two days after launch on Feb. 8. Like most man-made objects at a distance in outer space, it looks like a faint star. Gianluca Masi / Michael Schwartz / Virtual Telescope and Tenagra Observatory

On Tuesday, SpaceX celebrated the successful launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a red Tesla Roadster. Three rockets strapped together were required to give the car a big enough boost to leave Earth’s gravity and send it into orbit about the sun. Two of those rockets re-landed safely back on Earth. The only mishap, minor in the big picture, was the loss of the third booster which missed the drone ship landing pad and struck the Atlantic Ocean at around 300 mph.


Live views of Starman and Tesla Roadster taken by cameras mounted on the car

The Roadster’s orbit now takes it just beyond Mars but not quite as far as the asteroid belt. It will now circle around the sun for millions of years as one of mankind’s odder legacies. It was a brilliant move to include the “Starman” mannequin in the driver’s seat. Should an extraterrestrial stumble across the vehicle one day, the dummy will provide the key clue about how a car is operated.


Tesla Roadster travels from 2018 to 2067 / Tom Ruen

I’ve heard some complaints about junking an expensive car. Why not send something useful into space like a satellite? That’s a good thought until you remember that the Falcon Heavy was a test launch, designed to demonstrate the rocket’s ability to launch heavy objects like manned spacecraft, orbiting observatories and large satellites into orbit or to the moon or Mars. Would you want your multi-million dollar satellite to potentially blow up on the launch pad? During some launches, concrete is used as a mass simulator. A car’s much more fun.

The Tesla Roadster is located about a dozen degrees (a little more than a fist held at arm’s length) below the planet Jupiter in the early dawn sky. Remember, you won’t see the car with your eyes. Only a giant telescope can spot it, and even then it will look like a very faint star. Bonus! The waning crescent moon will also be near the planet Mars. Stellarium with additions by the author

The video from SpaceX is incredible if only because it’s real. Struts holding video cameras were mounted on the Tesla that record its travels near Earth in real time. Watch how the lighting angle changes as the “craft” orbits. Simply amazing. While the video makes it appear as if the car is alone in space, I just found out that it remains attached to the Falcon second stage. Video was only taken for some hours after the Roadster was sent up into orbit. Wish SpaceX would have sent up solar panels and equipment to keep it running for a few years.

The pair is on its way out of the Earth-moon system and far too faint to see in amateur telescopes. But just for fun you can imagine its location in far eastern Hydra (the sea serpent) where it borders Libra about 12° southwest of Jupiter.

2 Responses

    1. astrobob

      Hi Betty,

      Space is so big anything we might put there amounts to specks, but I feel differently about putting things in orbit around the Earth. One limiting factor in sending objects into space is cost, the reason very few of us will ever launch a spacecraft, but there are still concerns. Take a read of this recent blog I did for Sky & Telescope for a deeper look at your question: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/humanity-star/

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