As the end of the year rapidly approaches, many in the quickly growing private space industry have their eyes set squarely on Elon Musk’s massive Falcon Heavy rocket platform, scheduled to conduct static fire testing before we change our calendars. The rocket promises to be the most powerful in use anywhere on the planet once it finally takes flight, tentatively within the coming weeks, which promises to be a sight to see, based on the images being released by Musk’s company, SpaceX.

The Falcon Heavy promises to be much more powerful that previously launched Falcon 9 rockets that SpaceX has been using (and re-using) for a few years now – which makes perfect sense, seeing as the platform itself is basically three of these rockets bolted together. With nine Merlin rockets per Falcon platform, that means the Falcon Heavy boasts a whopping 27 individual engines. If you’re looking for a frame of reference, the force released by all of these engines combined is roughly equivalent to the thrust produced by 18 Boeing 747s. According to Musk, the first launch of the Falcon Heavy will be limited to 92% of that maximum thrust figure.

To get a sense of what just one of those 27 engines can do, here’s a video SpaceX posted of a recent test:

All together, that means the Falcon Heavy will produce more than 5 million pounds of thrust at full tilt, enough to put around 54 tons into orbit, which is nearly twice that of the largest rocket in current operation, the Delta IV Heavy. If SpaceX’s claims can be believed, it will accomplish that incredible feat at nearly one-third the cost of a Delta IV launch – thanks in large part to SpaceX’s emphasis on reusability in their rocket platforms.

The completed Falcon Heavy first stage at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral complex

It has taken Musk’s space-faring organization around six years to figure out how to harness that much power in a single platform without compromising their budget-friendly figures they hope will win them further private and government contracts. The rocket was originally announced in 2011, but setbacks have repeatedly delayed its development. Now, however, it would seem that we’re finally on the eve of a significant leap forward in private space endeavors, as Musk has already announced that the first launch will occur in January – carrying a priceless payload: his cherry red, prototype Tesla.

The Falcon Heavy is slated to launch in January from the same platform that once saw the Saturn V that brought Apollo 11 to the moon, in a fitting tribute to the history of America’s space efforts.


Images courtesy of SpaceX