Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX teases with Falcon Heavy interstage photo

Falcon Heavy rocket launch SpaceX image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

An artist’s depiction of Falcon Heavy rocket on ascent. Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX teased a photo of its Falcon Heavy rocket by posting a picture of the interstage of the heavy-lift booster. In addition to its backlogged manifest, the Hawthorne, California-based company hopes to launch the vehicle sometime in 2017.

The Falcon Heavy has been anticipated for many years now. It was originally expected to launch from the company’s West Coast launch facility as early as 2013, but due to design changes in parallel with the upgrade of the Falcon 9 v1.1 vehicle, and later the Falcon 9 Full Thrust variant, that was pushed to 2015.

However, due to two launch failures of the Falcon 9 rocket within 14 months of each other and the subsequent recovery and catch up work related to the incidents, the first Heavy launch was pushed to mid-2017.

Falcon Heavy interstage

SpaceX teased its Falcon Heavy rocket with a picture of the booster’s interstage at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The photo was released on Dec. 28, 2016. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Falcon Heavy will consist of a Falcon 9 Full Thrust core stage with two additional F9 first stage boosters on the side acting as strap-on boosters. It looks similar to United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy but will be able to lift twice as much.

When it launches, its 27 Merlin 1D engines will be able to lift 54.4 metric tons to low-Earth orbit. This will make it the most powerful rocket in operation, at least until NASA’s Space Launch System debuts in late 2018. Historically, it will be the fourth most powerful rocket ever built and successfully launched, behind the U.S.-built Saturn V rocket and the Space Shuttle system (if you count the winged Orbiter as payload) as well as the Soviet-built Energia rocket.

SpaceX, however, still needs to return the Falcon 9 rocket to safe flight. The vehicle has been grounded since a Sept. 1, 2016, launch pad explosion, which destroyed the rocket and the $200 million Amos 6 payload.

The company is currently finalizing the investigation into the failure, which has focused on a breach in the second stage cryogenic helium system. In an Oct. 28 update on SpaceX’s website, the firm believes, though extensive testing, the failure was due to loading conditions that affected the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.

Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, said that throughout the course of the investigation the company hoped to launch again by the end of 2016, but in a bid to give engineers more time to finalize the investigation as well as prepare multiple rockets (one at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and the other at the recently modified Launch Complex 39A in Florida), it was decided to launch in January 2017 instead. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to sign off on the company’s findings.

2017 is expected to be a busy year for the NewSpace firm. In addition to returning the Falcon 9 to flight and eventually launching the Falcon Heavy, it hopes to re-fly one of its recovered boosters, continue work toward the first Crew Dragon unpiloted test flight, and repair the damaged Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral.

All the while, the company is continuing to construct its private launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas. According to a local report from KRGV, construction is well underway with a lot of work being done late at night and early in the morning.

Earlier in the year, a large white antenna was delivered and installed next to the local village. It will be one of two ground stations used to track Dragon flights to the International Space Station.

The first flight from this facility is expected to occur no earlier than 2018.

Video courtesy of SpaceX



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

Reader Comments

I believe Musk is CTO of SpaceX, with Gwen Shotwell as CEO. However, Musk is CEO of Tesla.

My mistake; Shotwell is president with Musk as CEO and CTO.

I have a question, no matter how silly it might seem. Where does Space X have its firing room for LC39A?

On Shuttle we used Firing Rooms 1 and 2, and Firing Room 3 was reserved as an alter to Apollo.

I am assuming that NASA is using Rooms 1 and 2 for SLS and I cannot see them giving up Firing Room 3.

So where?

Don’t they already have their own?

I am sure they do, but where. The only SpaceX Firing Room I know about is at Pad 40. I’m sure they could pipe info back and forth but I can also think of a bunch of issues that could complicate processing and launch of the various configurations (ie falcon 9/ falcon heavy/ falcon-dragon) at the different pads if that is the case.

Anyway, just curious.

SpaceX is not really doing much of anything at Boca Chica. UT is handling the antennas and is the one putting the building up for their Stargate facility. The pad is still undisturbed sand, and the hill is for the pad warehouse.

So why are they working at night, and early morning in South Texas at this time of the year. Summer, I could see, but during the winter?

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