It’s time for Elon Musk and his launch company, SpaceX, to shake up the world of off-planet travel once again. After a year of successful launches and recoveries of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stages, Musk has his sights set on heavier payloads, more launches, and bigger missions — all of which will theoretically be possible with the introduction of SpaceX’s newest roccket: the Falcon Heavy. Heres everything you need to know about what’s soon to be the world’s biggest, baddest rocket.
What’s the big deal?
Big is exactly the deal. When the Falcon Heavy makes its debut, it will become the world’s largest operational rocket, only beaten by the Saturn V rocket which was last flown in 1973. Weighing in at 54 metric tons (119,000 lbs), the Falcon Heavy also boasts an operational payload of more that two times it’s closest competitor, the Delta IV Heavy , yet can be produced for a one third of the cost.
The Falcon Heavy’s multiple stages being assembled.
This is made possible by drawing heavily upon the proven success of the Falcon 9 rocket system, as the first stage of the Falcon Heavy is composed of three Falcon 9 engine cores. The combined 27 Merlin engines generate more than five million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to the power of eighteen 747 aircraft. Regardless of what the payload ends up being, there’s definitely room for plenty of it.
Why the wait?
First mentioned by Musk in 2005, and originally scheduled to become operational just a few years after the Falcon 9’s debut voyage in 2009 — the Falcon Heavy has been in production for quite some time.
In 2011, plans were set in motion to increase manufacturing capabilities to meet expected demands of both the Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy. Then in 2015, with the introduction of the Falcon 9 V1.1 upgrades, tandem production of the Falcon Heavy was announced. This eventually culminated in a photo released in December 2016 of the Falcon Heavy interstage at the company headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Since then, a number of different things (additional testing, the CRS-7 launch failure, and extensive launch pad renovations) have contributed to years of delays. But now, with it’s maiden voyage tentatively set for January of 2018, the business is piling up for SpaceX.
Since it’s announcement, the Falcon Heavy has drawn a lot of attention. From military contractors to telecommunications firms to private citizens excited for the newest tourism craze, it seems like the entire world is chomping at the bit to blast stuff into orbit.
Currently, the Falcon Heavy’s launch itinerary includes contracts from Arabsat, the United States Air Force, a much anticipated visit around the moon, and one very special cherry red car. These planned missions vary in type and destination, but they all share one similarity: getting the world pumped up about space travel again.
Now that the craft has been assembled, run through preliminary tests, set vertical, and stuffed with its first payload (Musk’s own cherry-red Tesla), the Heavy’s first launch is rapidly approaching, and will likely happen sometime in late January. But first, it has to pass a static fire test. Only then will SpaceX be able to set a concrete launch date.
So until then, we’ll all just have to wait here on the edge of our seats.