The world’s most powerful rocket has blasted off from Cape Canaveral, sending a car into an orbit that could last a billion years.
Space X’s Falcon Heavy rocket fired up its 27 engines and three boosters and lifted off to raucous cheers and applause at 3.45pm local time.
Its five million pounds of thrust, equal to the power of 18 jumbo jets, appeared to work without a hitch as the rocket sped into the Florida sky on its first test mission.
The big moment was delayed for several hours due to high winds and the success of the mission was far from assured.
Even SpaceX boss Elon Musk admitted it might all end in a ball of flames as the company embarked on its most ambitious launch to date.
The billionaire, who also owns Tesla, used his own car as the test payload – with David Bowie’s Space Oddity playing on lift off and a mannequin spaceman in the driver’s seat.
If it survives the harsh space environment, SpaceX hopes it will enter an Earth-Mars orbit around the sun. The company says the journey could last a billion years.
The impressive sight of the rocket’s side boosters peeling away and landing upright and in unison back at Cape Canaveral came soon after launch.
But the return to earth of the central booster was less successful. Mr Musk said that it had crashed into the Atlantic at 300mph, missing the floating landing platform.
He said it hit the water with such force that shrapnel flew onto the droneship’s deck and took out two engines.
The 70-metre Falcon Heavy is powerful enough to carry a payload of 64 metric tons – twice that of its nearest rival – and because of the reusable boosters is also far cheaper – at about $90m per launch (£64m).
The next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, can put about half as much in orbit for four times the price.
It may be the most powerful rocket in existence, but it is not the most powerful ever.
Saturn V, which took astronauts to the Moon, could handle more payload, as could the Soviet-era Energia.
Nevertheless, the successful test looks set to pave the way for far bigger commercial satellites being put into orbit.
The SpaceX rocket has already been booked to launch several large communications satellites and a test payload for US Air Force.
But Elon Musk plans to go further – by the end of the year he wants to send two paying passengers around the Moon.
He is not the only billionaire with space ambitions.
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos also has a spaceflight company, Blue Origin, and is testing a resuable rocket to fly space tourists to the edge of space.
A larger orbital rocket, New Glenn, is also in the works that will compete against the likes of SpaceX to put satellites into orbit.