Space Exploration Technologies, more commonly known as SpaceX, announced on Tuesday the Falcon Heavy: a towering, 22-story rocket that will be able to carry heavier payloads and bring launch costs down.
The Falcon Heavy will be built on a similar platform to that of the Hawthorne company's Falcon 9 rocket. It will also be capable of lifting twice as heavy a payload as the next-largest rocket.
Times reporter W.J. Hennigan broke the news this morning, ahead of the company's formal announcement of the Falcon Heavy in Washington on Tuesday. From Hennigan's report:
"We're embarking on something that's unprecedented in the space industry, " Elon Musk, the company's chief executive, told The Times. "This is territory that has only belonged to the U.S. government — with its tens of billions of dollars."
Musk's company is building the 227-foot-tall Falcon Heavy even though there are no guarantees that the military or NASA will step forward to pay for the rocket to lift its payloads — or even astronauts — into space someday.
SpaceX hopes to launch it in a demonstration flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, at the end of next year.
NASA and other government agencies haven't committed to buying any Falcon Heavy rockets. But SpaceX is developing the launcher with the hope that customers will come.
And they just might. The lower launch costs are a big selling point as federal funds are hard to come by. As Hennigan noted in his report:
NASA has invested $298 million in seed money to help SpaceX develop and build its smaller, nine-engine Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon space capsule. The space agency has awarded the company a $1.6-billion contract to have SpaceX's Dragon transport cargo to the space station — with trips possibly starting later this year.
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