Falcon Heavy: Elon Musk Video Reveals Size of World’s Most Powerful Rocket
Liftoff is almost here. The Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket currently in operation, is set to complete its first non-test mission this Tuesday when it launches the Arabsat-6A satellite. Elon Musk, CEO of Falcon Heavy creator SpaceX, shared an impressive video that shows the rocket inside its hangar.
The video, shared on Twitter by Musk on Saturday, demonstrates the impressive size of this engineering marvel. The vehicle is comprised of 27 Merlin engines spread out over three cores, roughly equivalent to three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. That means while the rocket has the same 12-foot diameter as its smaller brother, the Falcon Heavy’s 40-foot width and 230-foot height means it nearly covers the whole hangar width. The tiny people scurrying around in Musk’s video emphasize the sheer scale of this gargantuan beast. The whole thing weighs a staggering 3.1 million pounds.
The company’s next mission will put this machine to the test. The rocket is set to launch at 6:36 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, stationed at Launch Complex 39A. The rocket will deliver Lockheed Martin’s Arabsat-6A satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, designed to offer television and cellular services for the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
It’s the first mission since Falcon Heavy took on its first flight in February 2018. During that mission, the rocket lifted up Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster into a trajectory approaching Mars. The car contained a dummy kitted with SpaceX’s spacesuit in the driver’s seat and the in-car sound system playing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on loop. The dashboard has a reference to the sci-fi novel series Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a “Don’t Panic” sticker recalling the advice given by the guide within the novel. It also contains a “5D quartz laser storage device” containing Isaac Asimov’s Foundation book trilogy.
The Falcon Heavy’s first mission for a client will involve a more conventional payload. The Arabsat-6A weighs around 6,000 kilograms (13,227 pounds). While the Falcon 9 is capable of sending 8,300 kilograms (18,300 pounds) into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, those figures assume the rocket won’t be landing after the mission. SpaceX plans to save all three cores from the Falcon Heavy mission, meaning it will be able to send the heavy Arabsat craft into orbit while saving enough fuel to land safely after the mission.
While this is the second launch of the Falcon Heavy, it’s the first for the “Block 5” variant. This new iteration, which underwent its first static test fire on Friday, offers a maximum thrust of 2,550 tons, or 5.1 million pounds. This ranks as around 10 percent higher than the thrust in the February 2018 demonstration mission, where Musk explained that the rocket would create 4.7 million pounds.
The Falcon Heavy is capable of lifting 140,660 pounds to low Earth orbit, more than double that of NASA’s Space Shuttle. Only the Saturn V, which last flew in 1973 and could send 310,000 pounds to low Earth orbit, beats the Falcon Heavy.
These upgrades come with a hefty price tag. While a standard launch for the Falcon 9 cost $62 million in 2018, the company’s website states that the Falcon Heavy costs a staggering $90 million for launch.
Although the Heavy makes for an impressive ship, it could pale in comparison to what comes next. The Starship, announced in September 2017, is designed to send 100 tons to low Earth orbit and generate 5,400 tons of liftoff thrust. The ship is designed to be fully reusable, fueled using liquid oxygen and methane, and could help power trips to Mars and beyond.
Update 02/09 4:45 a.m. Eastern time: An earlier version of this story claimed the Saturn V could send 117,000 pounds to low Earth orbit. It has now been corrected.