SpaceX has gotten quite adept at launching its Falcon 9 rocket. In fact, it’s becoming commonplace for it to do something no one else can do — land the first stage of that rocket for reuse. SpaceX is not content to just putter around in low-Earth orbit, though. The next big step for SpaceX is to begin flying the Falcon Heavy, a much more powerful version of the Falcon 9 that’s still intended to be reusable. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced that the first Falcon Heavy launch is currently on-track for this November.
The Falcon 9 is certainly no slouch with a payload capacity for low-Earth orbit of over 50,000 pounds. However, the Falcon Heavy will nearly triple that with enough power to lift 140,000 pounds into orbit. Of course, it’s not just about lifting heavier payloads; the Falcon Heavy has enough power to push SpaceX’s range out past the influence of Earth. The company expects it to be able to reach Mars with a payload of about 37,000 pounds. It will be the most powerful rocket since NASA’s Saturn V was designed for the Apollo program.
Before any of that can happen, SpaceX needs to test the rocket under real-world conditions. The 230-foot rocket uses many of the same pieces as the Falcon 9, so it’s actually the same overall height. The central block of the Falcon Heavy will be a modified Falcon 9 Full Thrust. Two additional Falcon 9 first stages are docked to either side to provide additional power. While many of the launches envisioned for the Falcon Heavy will make landing the first stages impossible, it may be technically feasible in certain situations.
Falcon Heavy maiden launch this November
A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on Jul 27, 2017 at 6:10pm PDT
Musk didn’t provide any new details on what will happen when the Falcon Heavy lifts off this November, but it’s likely to take place at the famed launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. That’s where the Apollo Saturn V rockets launched from, and SpaceX began using the facility last year. Musk has also stated that the Falcon Heavy launch will make use of two previously launched and recovered Falcon 9 boosters. The structurally enhanced core for the Falcon Heavy has also been tested on the ground.
Musk has attempted to set expectations low for the launch, noting that there’s a lot that could go wrong with the launch. While the Falcon Heavy is made of well-tested Falcon 9 parts, it’s hard to know how all 27 engines on the vehicle will work together. Even one of them misfiring could cause problems for the launch. Whatever the outcome, the first Falcon Heavy launch promises to be a good show.