SpaceX unveils heavy launcher

2011-04-06 08:35

Washington - SpaceX unveiled what its chief executive Elon Musk has called the world's most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which will have its first demonstration flight at the end of 2012.

The launcher is designed to lift into orbit satellites or spacecraft weighing more than 53 metric tons - more than twice the capacity of the Space Shuttle or Delta IV Heavy launcher.

"Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo programme," Musk said at the National Press Club.

"This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions," he said.

Musk, a South African who made his fortune in the internet, created SpaceX in 2002.

Cargo transport

"Falcon Heavy will arrive at our Vandenberg, California, launch complex by the end of next year, with lift-off to follow soon thereafter. First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014," he said.

His goal in the coming years is to transport cargo and astronauts for Nasa to the International Space Station after the US space shuttles are finally retired in June.

Until there is a successor to the shuttles, Nasa will depend exclusively on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the ISS.

SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, is one of two private companies that Nasa has contracted to transport cargo to the ISS.

To give a sense of the rocket's might: 53 metric tons is more than the top take-off weight of a loaded Boeing 737-200 with 136 passengers. So Falcon Heavy can deliver the equivalent of an entire commercial jet load of passengers, crew, luggage and fuel all the way to orbit.

  • jeremy - 2011-04-06 09:20

    Wow, fantastic! Can't wait to see the real thing. Well done Elon! Just as a matter of accuracy, the Saturn 5 may have been the most powerful rocket yet built, but it certainly couldn't carry 53 tons into orbit. Maybe because it was headed for the moon it needed all that tonnage for fuel - I don't know - but it never carried a payload of more than a ton or two.

  • otiose - 2011-04-06 09:58

    @Jeremy, actually no, the Saturn V could carry it's third stage to TLI (Trans lunar injection). The third staged, used for getting the Apollo craft to the moon, weighed 119,000 kg when fully fueled (11 tonnes empty). The Third stage carried the command module (weighing 30 tonnes) and the lunar module (weighing another 14 tonnes). This is a great achievement, but anything pales in comparison to the Apollo program.

  • Uwe Klopfer - 2011-04-06 09:58

    cool...make it happen first, you know how many launch failures Nasa had with the Saturn V ? Many. And they had billions to throw at research, testing and construction. Sure, technology has improved...but the proof of the pudding.......

      otiose - 2011-04-06 10:14

      no it didnt. The Saturn V had 13 launches, with only 1 failure on apollo 6. Same issue occurred on apollo 13, but was minor and wasn't the cause of the mission failure.

      James - 2011-04-06 10:20

      Space-X has already done allot of things thought impossible for a private enterprise organisation. Putting Dragon into orbit and bringing it back safely, shows the level of expertise Space-X has already attained in their short existence. The Falcon 9 Heavy will be based on Falcon 9 hardware that has already flown successfully. The communality of the hardware between the systems ensure reliability as well as the massive reduction in cost that Space-X are offering. Pity that they don't get a bigger chunk of change from the American government, as here is a company that knows how to use it without wasting it. Go Space-X!

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