SpaceX mogul Elon Musk’s dreams of making humans an interplanetary species keep getting bigger—literally, in the case of his immense Falcon Heavy rocket.
Musk’s ambition, which he Tweeted and posted to Instagram recently, is to launch this monster (which is the most superpowered rocket since Saturn V back in the Apollo era) in November. While it is expected to blast off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the launch date is still up in the air.
So how massive have Musk’s prospects grown this time? If Saturn V needed then-unprecedented power just to get astronauts to the moon, Mars missions will demand something almost unreal. Enter the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. This rocket is 230 feet tall and can fly payloads of up to 60 tons into low-Earth orbit and still shoot into a geostationary transfer orbit with up to 24 tons. It’s basically the next phase of Falcon 9 with a tremendous power boost.
However huge the Falcon Heavy is, it’s reusable like the smaller Falcon 9 rocket it was based off of — able to land its first phase back on Earth for future flights after launching into orbit. Falcon Heavy will actually be using two recycled Falcon 9 first stages, each powered by 27 Merlin engines, to take off. That’s 190,000 lb-ft of thrust at launch, which will only increase with the decrease in atmospheric density as it breaks through higher altitudes. Its second stage mirrors Falcon 9’s by using just one Merlin. Integrating all these boosters into this leviathan rocket turned out to be a challenge just as enormous.
Musk wasn’t always so confident that Falcon Heavy would make it to space so soon. He admitted that the rocket’s design process proved much more difficult than he expected. Even after SpaceX successfully static-fired the first core stage, a modified Falcon 9 core, in May, he remained doubtful about its chances of making it into orbit when he voiced his concerns at the International Space Station Research and Development conference last month.
"I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage,” Musk said. "I would consider even that a win, to be honest.”
Now Musk feels that despite the difficulties encountered in its design and anxieties about that first blastoff, the launch will be a spectacle—and the Falcon Heavy a giant in the space industry.
(via NBC Mach)