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The vehicle, which has a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit inside, was launched into space with SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday (February 6). That final burn appears to have happened overnight, above California.

A first test flight could take place in 2019 with orbital tests in 2020 and the delivery of the first cargo to Mars in 2022.

The Falcon Heavy, built by privately owned space exploration firm SpaceX, carried a cherry-coloured auto, which is now headed towards a virtually unending elliptical solar orbit around Mars.

"I kind of like the absurdity of it", he said at a press conference Tuesday.

The rocket carried SpaceX and Tesla CEO Musk's personal cherry red Tesla Roadster into space, over-shooting its intended goal of Mars's orbit. Musk has said the plan with the Falcon Heavy is to recover "at least two of the three cores" on each flight, though recovering all three would be ideal.

That rocket is now being used to bring satellites into orbit and resupply the International Space Station.

"Most of our engineering resources will be dedicated to BFR and so I think that will make things go quite quickly", Musk said. Launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the launch according to many puts SpaceX way ahead of many of its rivals.

Within minutes following its launch, the Falcon Heavy's two side boosters separated from the central rocket in one of the most critical points of the flight. It's the inspiration of Elon Musk, the high-tech, science fiction-loving maverick who heads SpaceX and electric carmaker Tesla.

Like so many others, NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold was awe-struck by the livestreaming of "Starman" and his ride. "First one on the orbital re-entry of the vehicle, second on the landing of the reusable launch vehicle on the airstrip and third on reusable rocket stages". Stretching 12 metres at the base and standing 70 metres tall, the Heavy is a triple dose of the Falcon 9, the company's frequent flyer with just a single booster.

He wasn't the only space industry heavy-hitter to take to Twitter: United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno also congratulated SpaceX on the achievement.

SpaceX is competing with Boeing to be the first to send Americans into orbit from US soil again, something that hasn't happened since NASA's last shuttle flight.

As private companies become more involved in space exploration, a new space race could emerge in the near future.