A giant has arisen at the Kennedy Space Center. For the first time, according to Spaceflight Insider, a Falcon Heavy rocket has been raised to the vertical position at Pad 39A in advance of a series of ground tests and eventual launch sometime in January 2018. Pad 39A is a place heavy with history.

Men departed to the moon from this launch pad. Skylab lifted off from there. Many of the space shuttle missions, starting with the first flight of the Columbia from that very pad. Now, Pad 39A is a commercial launch facility, leased by SpaceX, and will feature the departure of the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful launch vehicle since the Saturn V.

What is the Falcon Heavy?

According to SpaceX, the Falcon Heavy is capable of lifting 54 metric tons to low Earth orbit. It consists of a core two-stage rocket and two strap-on rockets, each composed of nine Merlin engines that together can generate five millions pounds of thrust. The Falcon Heavy is designed to carry heavy payloads to Earth orbit and conduct a variety of deep space mission, including some with crewed Dragons. The Falcon Heavy will very likely be an integral part of President Trump’s back to the moon effort.

What happens next?

The Falcon Heavy will undergo a number of ground tests, culminating in a hold down firing of all 27 Merlin engines in the core rocket and the two strap-on rockets.

Sometime after the test, SpaceX will attempt a launch test.

The Falcon Heavy, if all goes well, will rise from Pad 39A with all 27 engines firing. The nine engines in the core rocket will throttle down while the 18 engines in the strap on rockets will continue firing until the side rockets separate. While the two strap-on rockets, which have actually flown already as the first stages of Falcon 9s, land back at the Kennedy Space Center, the nine Merlin engines of the core stage will throttle up and lift the second stage and the payload into space.

The first stage core will separate and land on a drone ship. The second stage will fire the Falcon Heavy payload that will place it on a trajectory that will put it in orbit around Mars.

Ordinarily, a dummy payload would be used for the first flight test of a new launch vehicle. However, ever the showman, SpaceX’s Elon Musk intends to launch his used Tesla Roadster red electric sports car to Mars orbit. Musk will have achieved a curious kind of space first, having repurposed a personal land vehicle into a spacecraft.