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What the SpaceX launch might mean for exploration

Falcon Heavy launch
Photo: SpaceX / Flickr

In the afterglow of SpaceX's successful Falcon Heavy launch on Tuesday, Elon Musk told reporters the reusable rocket could "launch things direct to Pluto and beyond; no stop needed. You don't even need a gravity assist."

Why that matters: Interplanetary spacecraft often rely on the gravitational forces of planets to reach their targets — because that method takes less fuel and a smaller rocket. Cassini was boosted to Saturn by Venus, Earth and Jupiter, for example. If the Falcon Heavy and any successors can provide a direct route to the outer solar system, it would save time (and money) and could therefore mean more missions.