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The Tesla Roadster and "Starman" dummy that SpaceX launched on its new Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday (Feb. 6) does not appear to be heading to the asteroid belt, despite what SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter Tuesday evening.
After orbiting the Earth for about 6 hours, the cherry-red Roadster (which was mounted on the Falcon Heavy's upper stage) set sail into the solar system. One hour later, Musk tweeted that the car had "exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the asteroid belt." The plan was to send the Roadster on an elliptical orbit around the sun, swinging by Mars along the way.
Orbit - Plot - Mistake - Jonathan - McDowell
"The asteroid orbit plot was just a mistake," Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Space.com.
McDowell explained that the error apparently arose when someone at SpaceX used an orbital parameter called C3 — a measure of the velocity needed to escape Earth's gravity — to determine the shape of the Roadster's orbit "and goofed while doing it."
Rocket - Customers - C3 - Orbit - Sun
"For selling the rocket to customers, C3 is what you care about, [and] the actual orbit around the sun is not relevant," McDowell said, "so they weren't careful about calculating it."
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