The long anticipated 229 foot tall Falcon Heavy rocket, adorned with 27 Merlin engines is set for its first launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center this November. “When Falcon Heavy lifts off in 2017, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two!”-SpaceX. Though considered an experimental craft, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies has made a name for itself by pushing the boundaries of what is, and what is not possible in the aerospace industry.
“There’s a real good chance that vehicle does not make it to orbit. We want to make sure and set expectations accordingly. I hope that it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win to be honest. Major pucker factor!” – Elon Musk.
In so, SpaceX won’t be delivering any form of precious cargo on the Heavy’s first flight, but are intending to send the “Silliest thing we can imagine!” In December of 2010, they launched a wheel of cheese on the world’s first commercial spacecraft to launch into orbit and return to Earth safely, the Dragon Cargo Capsule.
“The nice thing is when you fully optimize it, it’s about two-and-a-half times the payload capability of a Falcon 9,” Musk said. “It’s well over 100,000 pounds to LEO (low Earth orbit) of payload capability, 50 tons. It can even get up a little higher than that if optimized.” With a stated cost of $90M, the FH will be both the most capable, and cost-effective booster on the market, with the closest US competition, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy costing well over $300M per vehicle.
The FH is intended to be a reusable rocket, which is comprised of three separate booster cores, with 9 Merlin engines each merged together. The 27 combined engines put out over 5,000,000 pounds of thrust when working in unison. Shortly after takeoff, each booster is designed to disengage, and reorient for orbital reentry, and hopeful landing on three separate landing locations inside the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, or at sea via their mobile landing ships named ASDS (Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship.) SpaceX has noted that the Falcon heavy will employ previously flown boosters as on each side of the central core in an effort to cut costs with the central booster being brand new given its immense pressure and load requirements
“The amount of load you’re putting through that center core is crazy because you’ve got two super-powerful boosters also shoving that center core, so we had to redesign the whole center core airframe,” Musk said. “It’s not like the Falcon 9 because it’s got to take so much- load. Then you’ve got separation systems.” Unlike other rockets, the FH is designed to sustain more than one unplanned engine shut down at any point in flight and still successfully complete its mission.
Despite his predictions for potential failure, Musk made sure to say “I encourage people to come down to the Cape to see the first Falcon Heavy mission. It’s guaranteed to be exciting.”
Credit: SpaceX (Based on expandable model)