Propelled by its three “cores,” the Falcon Heavy will cement its credentials as the most powerful rocket in
current operational status, overtaking United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy.
Image Credit: SpaceX

Falcon Heavy to Take Center Stage in SpaceX’s Future Plans

By Ben Evans

Flight computers now in control of the vehicle…”

It is 2013. At first glance, the rocket about to fly from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California looks strangely familiar, bearing some hallmarks of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, juxtaposed with a size and bulk more in keeping with United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy. It stands 227 feet tall and across the breadth of its trio of first-stage “cores” it measures 38 feet wide. Weighing 1,400 tons at liftoff, it can insert 120,000 pounds of payload into low-Earth orbit and propel as much as 26,000 pounds to higher geostationary altitudes. Taking into account its low-Earth orbit mandate, it falls into a category of rockets classed by NASA as “super-heavy-lift.” Its name: the Falcon Heavy.

“Standing by for the propellant tanks to flight pressure…First and second stages are pressing to their flight positions…”

Developed under the auspices of Elon Musk’s SpaceX organisation, the new booster is a direct outgrowth of the Falcon 9, which has to date despatched a pair of Dragon cargo ships toward the International Space Station. Like the Falcon 9, the Heavy boasts nine Merlin engines on its first stage. Yet the similarities stop there. Whereas the current Falcon 9 is powered by Merlin-1C engines, the Heavy will utilise the upgraded Merlin-1D, which underwent a full-flight-duration test-firing at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, in June 2012. Moreover, with two additional strap-on cores—each of which is also powered by nine Merlin-1Ds—the Heavy carries tremendous potential to execute missions into Earth orbit…and beyond.

“…T-minus 30 seconds…”

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