On Tuesday, SpaceX plans to launch not only a new rocket platform, but a new era of private space enterprises with the inaugural flight of the seven-year in the making Falcon Heavy. Much ado has been made about this massive platform’s mind boggling 27 Merlin rocket engines, producing thrust equal to that of approximately 18 commercial airliners, and this week, it appears that it’s finally time for Elon Musk and his private space agent to put their money where their mouth is.
On Tuesday, weather permitting, the Falcon Heavy will assume the throne as most powerful operational rocket platform on the planet, and that’s no laughing matter. If successful, Tuesday’s launch promises to be the first American rocket even capable of propelling a manned mission to the moon to take to the skies since the retirement of the storied Saturn V platform that powered the Apollo missions into the history books in the 1960s and 70s.
The powerful platform, which was first announced in 2011, is capable of carrying a stunning 64 metric tons (141,000 pounds) into orbit by harnessing the more than five million pounds of thrust it’s three rocket cores produce. That’s more that twice the power allotted by the current heavyweight title holder, the Delta IV, which remains the most powerful platform in operation on the planet until the Falcon Heavy takes to the skies.
Although the Falcon heavy doesn’t boast enough power to set any all-time records, managing to keep all of those rockets working in unison has proven troublesome for Musk’s company. Even as he announced that the rocket’s first payload would be his one of a kind Tesla Roadster last year, he still tempered his enthusiasm by reminding people that there’s a good chance that the rocket will simply explode as it attempts to launch.
Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing ‘Space Oddity,'” Musk tweeted late last year. “Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.”
That wasn’t the only time Musk brought up the inherent risk associated with attempting to launch a new and extremely powerful rocket platform.
This is one of those things that’s really difficult to test on the ground,” Musk said last year. “There’s a lot of risk associated with the Falcon Heavy, a real good chance that that vehicle does not make it to orbit. Want to make sure I set expectations accordingly. I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage, I would consider even that a win, to be honest. And uh, yeah. Major pucker factor, it really is.”
NASA’s forthcoming Space Launch System is expected to take the title of most powerful rocket if it’s ever able to claw its way out of years worth of delays and setbacks. Currently, the SLS is expected to take to the sky sometime in 2020 or 2021, though even when it does, Musk’s now powerhouse could give it a run for its money in a very literal sense. According to SpaceX, each launch of the Falcon 9 will cost only $92 million; a fraction of the anticipated price tag for an SLS launch.
The Falcon Heavy is expected to take flight at 13:30 Eastern time on Tuesday. Although SpaceX has yet to announce a live stream of the event, it will likely be shown live on YouTube on other streaming platforms.
Watch a compilation of some of SpaceX most dramatic (and exciting) failures in the video below.
(Images courtesy of SpaceX)