SpaceX: Falcon Heavy poised to fly this year
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — One of the most anticipated flights of 2015 is still on track according to representatives from Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ). The first flight of the company’s Falcon Heavy booster, is on track for a third quarter launch. SpaceFlight Insider spoke with SpaceX’s John Taylor to find out a bit more about what we can expect to see from the NewSpace firm’s latest offering.
Taylor, a spokesperson for the company was asked if the launch of the Falcon Heavy was still on track for this year. He confirmed it was and that both the vehicle and its launch site, historic Launch Complex 39A, located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, were moving ahead with a launch date currently planned for sometime in the third quarter of 2015.
“We are still planning on launching the first Falcon Heavy later this year,” Taylor stated.
SpaceX describes the Falcon Heavy as the most powerful rocket in the world and is, in many ways, similar to United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket. This stems from the fact that both boosters are, essentially, three rockets strapped together as one. One of the more obvious differences in the two designs is that the Delta IV Heavy uses three Aerojet Rocketdyne-provided RS-68 rocket engines and the Falcon Heavy uses 27 Merlin 1D engines – produced in house by SpaceX.
SpaceX has listed the rocket’s lifting capability at being 117,000 lbs (53,070 kg) the Delta IV Heavy, by comparison is capable of lofting 63,470 lbs (28,790 kg) to low-Earth orbit. However, a rocket’s true qualities are written after it has flown. Whereas the Delta IV Heavy has been launched eight times so far, the Falcon Heavy has yet to take to the skies.
If SpaceX’s latest offering is as advertised, the Falcon Heavy should be capable of generating some 3.969 million lbs (17,615 kilonewtons) worth of thrust at liftoff. Shortly after the 27 Merlin 1D engines power the booster and its precious cargo off of the pad, the three booster cores will throttle back, not long after the two outer booster cores will detach, falling back to Earth (or, potentially, fly back) leaving the central core to throttle back up to full power.
SpaceX lists the heavy-lift booster’s capabilities at approximately 3,969,000 lbf (17,615kN) at sea level and 4,500,000 lbf (20,017kN) in a vacuum.
When asked if the Falcon Heavy first stage would be reusable, Taylor responded that it would, making it, as with other members of the Falcon family – unique. SpaceX made its first attempt at landing a Falcon v1.1 first stage booster on a floating launch pad on Jan. 10 of this year. However, the test was not a complete success as the booster did not make its landing.
With a full 2015 launch schedule, the company has plenty of opportunities to get it right, however. They plan to eventually move the landings to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 13; however, given the complexity involved with landing not one, but three F9 booster cores, this would be quite an ambitious task.
NASA and SpaceX announced in April of 2014 that SpaceX had signed a 20 year lease for use of LC-39A. The NewSpace aerospace company, based out of Hawthorne, California then announced that the historic site would be the location from which it would launch the Falcon Heavy from.
“As the world’s fastest growing launch services provider, SpaceX will maximize the use of pad 39A both to the benefit of the commercial launch industry as well as the American taxpayer,” Shotwell said.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.