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Falcon Heavy Rocket.

SpaceX to test the world’s most powerful operational rocket, the Falcon Heavy, later today

Later today, SpaceX will be test-firing the firm’s most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which is earmarked to shuttle humans to Mars.

Falcon Heavy Rocket.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket. Image credits SpaceX.

The Falcon Heavy has the distinction of being the most powerful operational rocket today and the second most powerful rocket humanity has ever built — outclassed in payload capacity only by NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which put a man on the Moon.

The Falcon Heavy, on the other hand, is Elon Musk’s attempt to put a man on Mars. It’s a long and hard trek, so the vessel is about twice as powerful as its closest operational competitor. It’s an impressive bit of technology that SpaceX wants to make sure works perfectly on the first try. As such, the company will test fire the rocket’s (impressive) array of 27 engines today, Tuesday 15th, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

“With more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, Falcon Heavy will be the most capable rocket flying,” SpaceX states on its website. “By comparison, the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals approximately 18 747 aircraft at full power.”

The only rocket that could carry a larger payload into orbit was the Saturn V, but that’s last been flown in 1973. It needs all that oomph, too, as the biggest challenge of sending a crew to Mars is the weight of the payload, around 10 times more than that of the Curiosity Rover.

Musk has high hopes for the Falcon Heavy. The billionaire has repeatedly talked about his ambition to make humanity a multi-planetary species, even calling for the President’s support in this endeavor last February. He even went as far as to goad his competition on if it gets us to that point sooner.

The Mars mission is just the first step on that path, but it could completely make or break Musk’s vision. A failure here could stifle the excitement in space travel for whole generations to come — and a success could galvanize societies across the Earth in a manner we haven’t seen in decades.

SpaceX is investing heavily in the hopes that the latter outcome comes to pass. According to NASA estimates, the company is investing around 320 million USD on the mission, a sum the agency will also contribute to. It makes perfect economic sense for NASA to do so as well since they can piggy-back on the company’s technological improvements — for example, use of SpaceX Dragon capsules allowed NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) at a fraction of its previous costs.

Fingers crossed for a successful test!

Artist’s concept of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy — the most powerful rocket in the world — is nearly ready

Artist’s concept of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

Artist’s concept of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

Ever since Elon Musk founded SpaceX at the turn of the new century, he has been dreaming about building a huge rocket with three nine-engine boosters strapped to it. More than a decade later, this fabled rocket, called the Falcon Heavy, is nearly ready. According to inside sources, Falcon Heavy’s maiden voyage could take place as early as fall 2017, ending a four-year long wait. Once it officially enters service, governments and companies will be able to launch instruments, cargo, and various machines that they previously couldn’t due to payload restrictions.

The most powerful rocket in the world

The Falcon Heavy’s specs are simply mind blowing. Basically, it’s made out of three Falcon 9 rockets — a standard Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as liquid strap-on boosters. Simply put, this means the triple-body rocket will be able to loft payloads three times heavier to orbit than the Falcon 9.  It should carry up to 21,200 kilograms (46,700 lb) to geostationary orbit and more than 14,000 kilograms (31,000 lb) to Mars. It can even carry up to 4,000 kilograms to Pluto! No other rocket besides the Saturn V used during the Apollo era to put a man on the moon is more powerful in the history of space flight.

Currently, the most powerful rocket in the world is United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4-Heavy, which is another three-body design. However, the 70-meter tall Falcon Heavy has more than twice the payload capacity to low Earth orbit than ULA’s Delta 4-Heavy.

Falcon Heavy vs Falcon 9

Credit: SpaceX.

That’s certainly impressive, but it wasn’t easy getting here. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the design for the Falcon Heavy in 2011 and promised it would be ready for liftoff in 2013.

“Falcon Heavy is one of those things that, at first, sounded easy,” Musk said in March. “We’ll just take two first stages and use them as strap-on boosters. Actually, no, this is crazy hard, and it required the redesign of the center core and a ton of different hardware.

“It was actually shockingly difficult to go from a single-core to a triple-core vehicle,” Musk said.

We know the Falcon Heavy is imminent because on May 9th SpaceX shared a video showing the first test of the rocket’s boosters. You’re invited to check it out.

Yup, that’s what  5.1 million pounds of thrust look like. But the best thing about the Falcon Heavy is that it will be fully reusable. Just like the Falcon 9, each of the three boosters will touch down safely on a spaceport very casually like so:

Or crash miserably:

Each of the boosters for the maiden Falcon Heavy mission will be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final processing in the coming months. According to March 30th press conference, the rocket will likely launch in ‘late summer’. It was actually supposed to launch this week per the previous schedule to deliver a powerhouse communications satellite owned by Inmarsat into orbit. Instead, it launched on Monday on a single Falcon 9 rocket.

The huge Inmarsat 5 F4 getting ready for take off on a Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat.

The huge Inmarsat 5 F4 getting ready for takeoff on a Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat.

Once the Falcon Heavy finally enters in operation, the ‘most powerful rocket’ crown might not last long. That distinction will soon enough belong to NASA’s upcoming Space Launch System. It will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.

SpaceX on a roll – lands first customer for Falcon Heavy rocket

The most successful private space flight venture, SpaceX, continues its successful streak which began with the successful launch and docking of its Dragon capsule with the International Space Station, after the company announced recently it has sealed its first contract for its slated Falcon Heavy rocket, which is expected carry about twice as much payload into orbit as currently available rockets.

The deal was signed with Intelsat, the world’s leading provider of satellite services worldwide – the first of many clients expected to be signed for the Falcon Heavy solution.

“Our support of successful new entrants to the commercial launch industry reduces risk in our business model,” Intelsat chief technical officer Thierry Guillemin said in a statement. “We will work closely with SpaceX as the Falcon Heavy completes rigorous flight tests prior to our future launch requirements,” he said.

Not only is the rocket capable of carrying more payload into space than any of its competitors, at  $1,000 per pound launched, about one-tenth the cost per pound on NASA shuttle launches, it’s also the cheapest. A typical launch is expected to cost $100 million, while the Air Force pays more than four times that amount for Delta 4 Heavy flights, which is the biggest U.S. expendable rocket and can only carry half the payload of the Falcon.

The successful docking of the Dragon capsule with the ISS has offered SpaceX a lot of credit and faith from behalf of NASA, the two having signed a 12-flight deal, worth $1.6 billion contract in which the private space company will ferry cargo to the station. The company also holds more than two dozen other contracts for Falcon 9 flights. Yes, SpaceX proves that space flight is not only innovative and cutting-edge technology-wise, but can also be profitable, and there are more company ready to follow in its footsteps.



SpaceX founder wants man to become a multi-planetary species

SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, in the Dragon capsule.

SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, in the Dragon capsule.

More than just a SciFi dream, Paypal founder and billionaire Elon Musk wants to make “man on Mars” a reality.

Speaking at a recent spaceflight propulsion conference held by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics on Tuesday, Musk unveiled during his keynote how his company, SpaceX, plans on sending humanity to Mars in coming decades.

“Ultimately, the thing that is super important in the grand scale of history is—are we on a path to becoming a multi-planet species or not? If we’re not, that’s not a very bright future. We’ll just be hanging out on Earth until some eventual calamity claims us,” Musk said.

SpaceX has seen a rapid growth in the past decade, signing a number of commercial contracts with NASA and other big telecom companies for space cargo ferrying and sub-orbital satellite deployment. This December, the company will make its first trip to the International Space Station, possibly paving the way for a longer partnership now that NASA’s shuttle program has been retired. The company, however, has bigger plans in stores, like trips to the moon or Mars.

The task of sending significant cargo and people to Mars is arduous, both engineering-wise and financially.

“There’s a reason no one has invented a fully reusable rocket before,” Musk explained. “It’s super-damn hard.”

At the conference, Musk described several of the recent advances made by his company’s Falcon 9 rockets, which were tested successfully for the first time June 4, 2010. The rocket is designed to generate 3.8 million pounds (1,700 metric tons) of thrust – ideal for  carrying satellites, cargo, and even humans to other planets, he said.

Musk has his faith set on another project, however – the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in the world. The SpaceX rocket has been design to carry about 117,000 pounds (53,000 kilograms) of cargo to orbit, twice as roomy as NASA’s Space Shuttle, and is second in size only to the Apollo program’s mammoth Saturn V. The Flacon Heavy is expected to have its inaugural flight in 2012.

Falcon Heavy is capable of carring 12 to 15 metric tons, but “I think you’ll probably want a vehicle that can deliver something on the order of 50 metric tons … in a fully reusable manner,” said Musk. This means, that we’ll have to wait quite a while before a viable means of space transportation can be discussed. Currently, the Falcon Heavy has a launch cost per pound of $1,000; for a economically feasible round-back trip to Mars the cost would have to be cut under $100.

Musk believes that a single vehicle capable of flying to Mars and back will be available at some time, but if a Mars base would be implemented afterwards, it would change the game dramatically.

“As soon as you’ve got a base on Mars, you’ve got a ‘forcing function’ for improving the transportation capability,” he noted.

“Before the U.S. colonies were established, there was no forcing function for improving trips across the Atlantic. But when there was, there was a need to make those ships better and better,” Musk said

The SpaceX CEO has been repeatedly cited in the public press as intending on putting a man on Mars in the next 20 years. NASA is currently discussing with the company about the possibility of using its  Dragon capsule on an exploratory mission to Mars, a so-called “Red Dragon” mission. The Dragon capsule is designed to work in concert with the company’s multistage Falcon 9 rocket, either on short range resupply trips to the International Space Station or on longer range missions to other planets

This elleged Red Dragon mission might be ready to launch by 2018 and would come at the extremely cheap price tag of $400 million or less, which sounds very fairytaleish  to me.  Musk expects the effort to be a combination of private and government funding, though he said it’s hard to predict what percentage would come from the government.

SpaceX reveals plans for world’s most powerful rocket


An artist's depiction of the Falcon Heavy rocket

NASA is going through one of it’s hardest periods ever, but that doesn’t mean that the space research and industry is too; take a look at SpaceX, a private company that already successfully launched a rocket, Falcon, into outer space last year. Now, they’re planning something even bigger.

Falcon Heavy has about twice as much lifting capacity as the soon to be retired shuttle, which makes it the most powerful rocket on the face of the Earth, and SpaceX sees here a great chance to fill in for NASA’s future space missions, especially as the rocket has been constructed to meet NASA’s requirements.

At $80 to $125 million per launch, Falcon Heavy will be 3 or 4 times cheaper than a conventional NASA space shuttle, and it will be capable of regular ISS transport, trips to asteroids, or even an unmaned mission to Mars. SpaceX says they expect Falcon Heavy to be ready next year, and the first launch will probably take place in 2013.

It’s great to see a private company doing things like this, and if NASA knows how to collaborate with them, it will definitely go a long way towards getting out of the crisis they seem to be stuck in.