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Where is the Tesla Roadster in orbit right now?

The app above shows the position of the Tesla Roadster right now and is correct for NASA data starting February 2018 and ending in 2090.

Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster

Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster above the Earth

Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster is an electric sports car that served as the dummy payload for the February 2018 Falcon Heavy test flight and became an artificial satellite of the Sun. A mannequin in a spacesuit, dubbed "Starman", occupies the driver's seat. The car and rocket are products of Tesla and SpaceX, respectively, both companies headed by Elon Musk. The 2010 Roadster is personally owned by and previously used by Musk for commuting to work. It is the first production car launched into space.

The car, mounted on the rocket's second stage, was launched on an escape trajectory and entered an elliptical heliocentric orbit crossing the orbit of Mars. The orbit reaches a maximum distance from the Sun at aphelion of 1.66 astronomical units (au).


Why did he launch it?

One of the objectives of the Falcon Heavy test flight was to demonstrate that the new rocket could carry a payload as far as the orbit of Mars. NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver stated that SpaceX had "offered free launches to NASA, Air Force etc. but got no takers", and that "the Tesla gimmick was the backup".

In December 2017, Musk announced that the payload would be his personal "midnight cherry Tesla Roadster".


Is it attached to anything?

Tesla Roadster mounted on a Falcon Heavy upper stage

The car is permanently mounted on the upper stage rocket in an inclined position above the payload adapter. Tubular structures were added to mount front and side cameras.


How was the car prepared?

Positioned in the driver's seat is "Starman", a full-scale human mannequin clad in a SpaceX pressure spacesuit. It was placed with the right hand on the steering wheel and the left elbow resting on the open window sill. The mannequin was named after the David Bowie song "Starman", and the car's sound system was set before launch to continuously loop the Bowie song "Space Oddity".

A copy of Douglas Adams' novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is in the glove box, along with references to the book in the form of a towel and a sign on the dashboard that reads "DON'T PANIC!". A Hot Wheels miniature Roadster with a miniature Starman is mounted on the dashboard. A plaque bearing the names of the employees who worked on the project is placed underneath the car, and a message on the vehicle's circuit board reads "Made on Earth by humans". The car also carries a copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy on a 5D optical disc, a proof of concept for high-density long-lasting data storage, donated to Musk by the Arch Mission Foundation.



The US Office of Commercial Space Transportation issued the test flight's launch license on February 2, 2018. The rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 15:45 EST (20:45 UTC) on February 6. The upper stage supporting the car was initially placed in an Earth parking orbit. It spent six hours coasting through the Van Allen radiation belts, thereby demonstrating a new capability requested by the U.S. Air Force for direct insertion of heavy intelligence satellites into geostationary orbit. Then, the upper stage performed a second boost to reach the desired escape trajectory.

The launch was live streamed, and video feeds from space showed the Roadster at various angles, with Earth in the background, thanks to cameras placed inside and outside the car, on booms attached to the vehicle's custom adaptor atop the upper stage. Musk had estimated the car's battery would last over 12 hours, but the live stream ran for just over four hours.

The Roadster is in a heliocentric orbit that crosses the orbit of Mars and reaches a distance of 1.66 au from the Sun. With an inclination of roughly 1 degree to the ecliptic plane, compared to Mars' 1.85° inclination, this trajectory by design cannot intercept Mars, so the car will neither fly by Mars nor enter an orbit around Mars. This flight simply demonstrated that Falcon Heavy is capable of launching significant payloads towards Mars in potential future missions.


Will it contaminate other planets?

The Planetary Society was concerned that launching a non-sterile object to interplanetary space may risk biological contamination of a foreign world. Scientists at Purdue University noted that the vehicle will be sterilized by solar radiation over time and that the vehicle is most likely to hit the Earth rather than other planets. However, if it were to hit Mars instead, some bacteria might survive on some hidden components of the vehicle and cause contamination. By that time though, if men colonise Mars then contamination is very likely to have already occurred.


How long will it survive in space?

Musk had originally speculated that the car could drift in space for a billion years. According to chemist William Carroll, solar radiation, cosmic radiation, and micro meteoroid impacts will structurally degrade the car over time. Radiation will eventually break down any material with carbon–carbon bonds, including carbon fibre parts. Tires, paint, plastic and leather might have lasted only about a year, while carbon fibre parts will last considerably longer. Eventually, only the aluminium frame, inert metals, and glass not shattered by meteoroids will remain.

Musk stated that SpaceX may one day launch a small spacecraft or Starship to catch up with the Roadster and take photographs or even return it to Earth for studying solar erosion on it. If space travel becomes common place then such objects as the Tesla might become tourist attractions!


Will it ever hit Earth?

The roadster made its first close approach to Mars on October 7, 2020. The next close approach to Earth will be in the year 2047 at a distance of 5 million kilometres, about 13 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. Simulations over a 3-million-year timespan found a probability of the Roadster colliding with Earth at approximately 6%, or with Venus at approximately 2.5%. A collision with Earth would not endanger life since whatever was left of the Tesla and upper stage would burn up on hitting the atmosphere.