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SpaceX sets launch date for world's most powerful rocket


April 6, 2011

The Falcon Heavy rocket is planned to launch in late 2013 or 2014 (Image SpaceX)

The Falcon Heavy rocket is planned to launch in late 2013 or 2014 (Image SpaceX)

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SpaceX, the American space transport company founded by PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk, has announced a late 2013 or 2014 launch date for the world's most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy. Overshadowed by only the Saturn V moon rocket that was decommissioned after the Apollo program, the Falcon Heavy will be able to carry payloads of 53 metric tons (117,000 pounds or 53,070 kg) into orbit, which is more than the maximum take-off weight of a Boeing 737-200 loaded with 136 passengers, luggage and fuel.

The first of the Falcon Heavy's two stages is made up of three nine-engine cores that are used as the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. For the Falcon Heavy, the Merlin engines have been upgraded and are currently being tested at SpaceX's development facility in McGregor, Texas. Like a commercial airliner, each engine is surrounded by a protective shell to contain a fire or chamber rupture and prevent it from affecting other engines or the vehicle itself.

At liftoff the 69.2m (227 ft) long Falcon Heavy will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust, which is equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747's taking off at the same time. SpaceX says this gives it more than twice the performance of the next most powerful vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy operated by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance. SpaceX also says that with more than twice the payload of the Delta IV but at one third the cost, the Falcon Heavy sets a new world record in terms of economy at approximately US$1,000 per pound to orbit.

"Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions," said Musk.

To achieve performance comparable to a three-stage rocket the Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to do a propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core, which leaves the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate. Crossfeed can also be turned off when it is not required, such as for missions below 100,000 pounds (45,359 kg).

With the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft to orbit, SpaceX is offering the Falcon Heavy on the commercial market for US$80–$125 million, which compares to the $435 million per launch the U.S. Air Force has budgeted for four launches in 2012. The first launch for the Falcon Heavy from SpaceX's Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

spot on Griffin, I thought the same thing

Bill Bennett

is this the next step after the shuttle, come on , what happened to the space elevator

Facebook User

That\'s pretty silly. Does that mean that the Thrust SSC is no longer the World\'s Fastest Car because it has been decommissioned and is only found in a museum?


Many people are saying many things- Anyone can say anything... \'till it costs them something.


Until or unless China builds their own Saturn V class launcher, Falcon 9 heavy IS (or better WILL BE) the most powerful one at that particular moment. US are DECADES from Ares V (or whatever alternative name for it) if it EVER gets build. Saturn V is gone literally into junkyard including everything that went into it and cannot be revived even if wished for. The last archival copy of Saturn V plans in Atlanta is lost (spare plans went to boyscout paper drive already in the seventies). But Saturn is GONE. Unfortunately, instead of re purposing Shuttle technology to build Shuttle C, or other Shuttle based heavy lifter, which could have been already done and there would be NO gap in space flights...they made a political decision to get \"entirely new\" (an old song) Ares. By that time, after a couple of decades, Ares V will be REALLY obsolete. America does not have and will likely not, in a foreseeable future, have nothing more powerful than Falcon 9 heavy. The author is correct.

If you still want to drive your point...with ALL launchers from the past....Falcon would come THIRD. Russian Energia was much more powerful than Falcon will ever be. (in some configurations Energia was MORE powerful than mighty Saturn V itself). But the same sad story...also scrapyard. Clinton administration decided they would not support Russia \"too much\"...and did not give the job of lifting ISS to Energia. Instead of dozens Shuttle flights (later amounting among other to Columbia disaster) International Space Station could have been lifted just in about four launches by Energia... Other daring projects could have followed....They did not. .. This is old dirty space politics as usual.

Thumbs up for FALCON !!!


A correction/adjustment: Columbia did not service ISS on its last flight. By the time of the fatal accident it was \"well-flown\" after about dozen ISS supply/construction missions. (This is only a secondary point.)


They should spend a measly $500 million for a space canon. The space canon concept I saw (do a search and you will find it) uses compressed hydrogen gas. It is useful to launch fuel, supplies and parts for a fraction of the cost of rockets.

Edgar Walkowsky

@nephosa: You should get your facts right:

1) All available blueprints of the Saturn V are stored on microfilm here:

But it is not possible anymore to recreate all used production techniques, because like in today´s buisines not everything can be documented, therefore building a Saturn V today would demand to develope a lot of processes again-it wasnt easy back then and would not be easy today.

2) The RKK Energija N1 had 4 testflights only and none (ZEEEERO) were successful!

And the first one was made 3 weeks before Neil Armstrong touched down at tranquillity base....means:way to late.It was therefore only more powerfull than the Saturn theoretically and after it was obvious that the Russians lost the space race, they gave it up to compete with that piece of crap.


Out of 3 remaining (none were scrapped, but the launch towers were) a fully flight worthy Saturn V is displayed at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in least it was flight certified until 1973 or so.

Putting the Constellation program to a rest was the biggest mistake they could do. Fu LEO and all that Shuttle crap, go to the Moon and test the hardware to go to Mars-and that was the purpose of Constellation....We need another space race to get something serously done in things about opinion.

Pete Conrad

Pay careful attention to SpaceX\'s Dragon developments. Their launch escape system is designed to serve double duty as a powered landing system, and they intend to use it for Moon landings when the time comes. Compare SpaceX planning with NASA plans, and it\'s plain to see that responding to market forces is an easier task than the political games NASA is forced to play.

NASA should focus on developing technologies that enable commercial firms to use private money for exploring and developing human presence in space. We need to focus on creating a market with buyers other than the government for space services, and people need to work on creating competition to SpaceX, or we\'ll only be replacing a government monopoly (NASA) with a commercial monopoly (SpaceX).

Pat Kelley

At Pete Conrad (the moonwalker?)

1Good for the plans; obviously I was quoting some alarmist who published exactly that \"the last set of blueprints in Atlanta Archives were lost\". (I need to check who that alarmist was). The fact is what you say, the operational knowledge of flying Saturn V was irretrievably lost and cannot be recovered; would need to be re-invented...Which is the result of policies that could have been MUCH different back then if only a glimmer of common sense illuminated path of people like Nixon (but he was not the solely responsible one, there was a lot of other dynamics there). Shuttle was a mistake. They should have made Saturn \"re-flyable\" (this is in fact the designation of is no longer billed as \"re-useable\" but rather \"re-flyable\" vehicle). A re-flyable Saturn with low operational costs would have made a world of difference. (Germans already worked on re-flyable V 2, with wings for landing, but did not have time to finish it.) 2 I was not referring to N1 Moonrocket. You are absolutely correct that the Soviets had no success with N1. It was a beast of a design with over 30 small engines in a ring. This in turn was because of personal animosity between two chief designers, Korolev and Gluskho: one had the rocket, the other the engines but they were at each other\'s throats since Stalin\'s times.

I was referring to Buran space shuttle booster, which was operational also by itself, without Buran. This is regularly referred as \"Energia rocket\" even though there is confusion with Energia (agency). You can check it out at that in SOME configurations it was more powerful than even Saturn. (Those configurations did not happen.)

3 I was essentially quoting from John S. Lewis Mining the Sky pg 4:

\"The last three flight-ready Saturn 5 boosters, already built and paid for, were laid out as lawn ornaments at Cape Canaveral, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Johnson Space Center, to rust into ruin and serve as testimony to the futility of that dream.\"

You are right about the first part, I took licence with the second part of the sentence. I have the \"scout paper drive\" thing also from him.

What was completely scrapped was all dies and extremely expensive equipment for manufacture, which is also essentially Saturn V \"in the making\": \"The tools and dies for building the Saturns were collected and sold as scrap metal for pennies a pound; a $20 billion investment in the future was melted into dross.\"(ibid.)

....but you do not want a race with China?!

This is what US already essentially lost...they are not racing. Bush Jr. VSE in 2004 was preemptive publicity directed at China ...but you know what happened next.

A race with China would be the MILITARY TAKES EVERYTHING OVER thing. After military takes everything over everything is lost from the public sight for several decades as top secrete/classified materials.

This is definitely not what you want. GO FALCON GO! Falcon, even underfunded/not fully supported is a better alternative.



I located the \"lost\" part just underneath on pg 4 in John. S. Lewis Mining the Sky:

The plans and blueprints and operating instructions for the Apollo hardware were declared surplus. One set of Saturn 5 plans was donated to a Boy Scout paper drive. The last apparently complete set of plans was sent to the Federal Record Archives in Atlanta. My attempts to find them several years ago met with no success: the plans have evidently been \"lost.




The Saturn V was 5 engines * 1.5 million lbs thrust = 7.5 million lbs thrust, so the Falcon Heavy at 3.8 million lbs of thrust is a good start. I know technology is better in a lot of ways, but the Falcon Heavy is copying the failed Soviet moon rocket design. The Saturn V had 5 engines = 5 chances of rocket plumbing failure. The Falcon Heavy has 27 engines = 27 chances of rocket plumbing failure. That makes for a dangerous game. PS, The Saturn V engine may return, .

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