SpaceX has been flying the Falcon 9 for several years, and the next step is the Falcon Heavy, a launch vehicle with enough power to take payloads to the moon, Mars, and beyond. As recently as a few weeks ago, SpaceX has been talking about a 2017 date for the Falcon Heavy’s maiden launch. However, it looks like that won’t happen after all. The company has confirmed that the launch has been postponed until next year. We might not have to wait too long, though.
The Falcon Heavy (previously known as the Falcon 9 Heavy) will be the most powerful rocket in the world, with more than 5.1 million pounds of thrust at sea level. The Heavy is based on the highly successful Falcon 9. It’s actually three Falcon 9 rockets linked together. The center unit will include a strengthened frame to support the two side boosters. The three Falcon 9 cores will mean a total of 27 Merlin 1D engines to fire at launch.
SpaceX has been working to get all its ducks in a row to make the promised 2017 launch schedule happen. Earlier this year, the company successfully fired the revamped center core for the Falcon Heavy, finding that the structural modifications didn’t interfere with engine performance. By late summer, SpaceX was shooting for a November launch, but that was pushed to December, and now into maybe January 2018.
According to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, the company still hopes to do a static fire test this year. That would be the first time the fully assembled rocket shows its face publicly, but it will be tethered to the ground so as not to go anywhere during the test. SpaceX will use this to ensure all 27 engines operate correctly. The actual launch could take place several weeks after the static test, thus the tentative January 2018 date. The Falcon Heavy is theoretically reusable like the Falcon 9, but it’s unclear if SpaceX is going to try and land the first stage boosters on its first flight.
When the Falcon Heavy is up and running, it will be able to lift payloads as large as 140,700 pounds into orbit. The rocket should also be able to take about 58,000 pounds up to geostationary orbit, and as much as 37,000 pounds to Mars. The Falcon Heavy will launch from the famed Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A, the site of Saturn V launches for the Apollo program. The Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in operation since NASA retired the Saturn V.