SpaceX: Falcon Heavy, Falcon 9 tag team set to share 20 launches a year

October 2, 2016 – 11:36 pm

no altSpace Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) head Elon Musk revealed their latest launch vehicle on Tuesday, the Falcon Heavy. Effectively three Falcon 9 core stages strapped together, the new vehicle – set to debut as soon as 2013 – will be the most powerful US rocket to have launched since the Saturn V was built for the Apollo Program, eventually sharing a 20 missions per year manifest with the Falcon 9.

Falcon Heavy:

The Falcon Heavy’s kerosene-driven first stage will be made up of three nine-engine cores, a core which has performed without issue on the opening two Falcon 9 flights. In total, 27 of SpaceX’s upgraded Merlin engines – currently being tested at the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas – will generate the 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff for the new vehicle.

The Falcon Heavy’s performance stats are impressive, with a Mass to Orbit (200 km, 28.5 deg) of 53 metric tons (117, 000 lbs), with its 3.8 million lbs of thrust lifting the 1, 400 metric tons of vehicle off the pad. The FH will be 69.2 meters (227 ft) in length, a total width of 11.6 meters (38 ft), with a fairing width of 5.2 m (17 ft).

“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 program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions, ” Mr Musk told a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Falcon Heavy will be the first launch vehicle to employ a propellant cross-feed system from the side boosters to the center core, thus leaving the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate. The net effect results in performance comparable to a three stage rocket, even though only the upper stage is airlit, further improving both payload performance and reliability.

“Depending on what the final performance numbers look like, it’s looking like at least 117, 000 lbs, maybe even above 120, 000 lbs. This is a rocket of truly huge scale, ” noted Mr Musk. “117, 000 lbs is more than a fully loaded Boeing 737… in orbit. It opens up possibilities with customers that aren’t currently present.

“If you compare the capacity with either the Space Shuttle or the Delta IV-Heavy – which are the two most capable vehicles in the world today – we’re (Falcon Heavy) more than twice the payload capability of those vehicles.”

Mr Musk noted that the Falcon Heavy will debut at Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4) at the Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California, before eventually setting up its primary home at Cape Canaveral in Florida. This plan will allow the new vehicle to play tag team with the Falcon 9, with both vehicles sharing the launch manifest for their larger passengers.


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