Last year, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) became the first commercial company to send a spacecraft into low Earth orbit and have it successfully reenter the Earth’s atmosphere–a significant step in the commercialization of space transportation.
SpaceX hopes to carry crew and cargo to the International Space Station when the space shuttles retire this year, using it’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. Now the company is vying for more: it’s building a heavy-lift rocket, a vehicle comparable to the Saturn V moon rocket, that can carry extremely large payloads to space, like a fully loaded Boeing 737 with 136 passengers.
“Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history….this opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions,” said Elon Musk, the company’s founder, CEO and chief rocket designer, at today’s press conference in Washington, DC. Musk said the Falcon Heavy rocket first launch is planned for late 2013 or 2014.
A few fun facts about the Falcon Heavy:
- It’s first stage will be made up of three nine-engine cores–the same engines, called Merlin, that are used for the Falcon 9 rocket.
- It will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff–equal to 15 Boeing 747 airplanes at full power.
- It is designed to meet NASA human rating standards, which means designing to more stringent safety requirements.
- It will be the first rocket in history to use propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core, leaving the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate.
- The side booster stages will have a mass ratio above 30, better than any vehicle of any kind in history.
- It will carry twice the payload of a Delta IV Heavy but will cost less than a third as much–it’s $1,000 per pound to orbit would set a new world record in affordable spaceflight.