A teaser of the booster's interstage released in December 2016

Falcon Heavy: The Most Capable Rocket On Earth Launches This Autumn

Mankind is inching a step closer to the ambitious dream of carrying out manned missions to Mars. Thanks to Elon Musk’s personal aerospace baby SpaceX’s latest space launch vehicle – the Falcon Heavy. The Falcon Heavy was first announced in 2011 at the Washington D.C Press Club by Musk. With his latest machine, he promised “more payload to orbit”. From the very onset of the idea, it was designed to carry humans into space and enable crewed missions to the Moon, or Mars.

When launched later this year, Falcon Heavy will be the most forceful and powerful rocket in operation.

A teaser of the booster’s inter-stage released in December 2016

What does Falcon Heavy do

The Falcon Heavy is a super heavy lift vehicle. It’s initial payload (the carrying capacity of the vehicle) was projected at 53,000 kgs to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and 12,000 kgs to the geosynchronous transfer orbit. By the end of 2016, the numbers were revised to 54,400 kgs for Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) and 22,000 kgs for the GTO.

In terms of design, the Falcon Heavy is very similar to Saturn V since both have been created for human exploration in space. When placed side by side, Saturn V is bigger, heavier and can deliver a bigger payload. However the Falcon Heavy can perform several missions as opposed to other Rockets. As of 2017, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket brought to operational status. The Falcon Heavy aims to break the record.

 

Saturn V as seen from the rear
Source: Infinity Science Centre

Progression from SpaceX

Right from 2008, SpaceX has bookmarked many achievements. It was the first privately funded company to send a liquid fueled rocket into the orbit, send a spacecraft into the International space station and send a satellite into the geosynchronous orbit. SpaceX launched an improved and upgraded version of the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral into the Low Earth Orbit earlier in 2015. Falcon Heavy is using the cores of this very rocket.

Also Read: The Rise & Rise of SpaceX 

The Design of Falcon Heavy

The configuration of the Falcon Heavy consists of the two Falcon 9 initial stages behaving as the strap on boosters for the vehicle. This is attached to the standard Falcon 9 in the centre. The Falcon Heavy should be more capable than any other operational rocket. At low-earth orbit, the rocket can now support a payload of 64,000 kgs and around 16,800 kgs at the trans-Mars injection. Strucutural safety margins stood at 40% above the required rate.

The first stage of the Falcon Heavy is powered by three Falcon 9 derived cores. Each one is equipped individually with 9 Merlin 1D engines. So a total of 27 Merlin 1D engines are used to raise the thrust to 24,681 kN so help the vehicle escape our atmosphere. Each core has an extensible landing leg grid fins that control the descent of the booster and the centre core through the atmosphere. After the side boosters used by SpaceX separate from the vehicle, each central engine will burn enough to be able to control the trajectory of the booster away from the rocket. The landing legs are made of state of the art carbon fiber and aluminium honey comb.

Expected Image of Falcon Heavy on the Launch pad

As the boosters come back to earth, the legs deploy, landing softly on the ground. The center core continues to fire until the separation stage. After the separation, the legs booster comes back on Earth safely.

The second stage of the rocket consists of a single Merlin 1D engine. They have been modified for all vacuum operations. The inter-stage, connecting the upper and lower stage of the Falcon 9 is made of carbon fiber aluminium core

The Re-usable rocket launching system

SpaceX recently started development on a reusable rocket launching system. This basically means that the same rocket core will launched and reused and landing. This will significantly reduce all costs and break the tradition of expensive rocket launches. This is being incorporated into the Falcon Heavy and is expected to be extensible to all parts of the rocket. In the Falcon Heavy, the outer cores separate from the rocket very early in the flight and hence move at a much slower velocity than that experienced at the initial separation.

Falcon Heavy Launch date

 

A tweet from Elon Musk’s personal handle

In a very recent tweet, the CEO revealed that the launch date might be as early as September. The Rocket’s main engines should be at the renowned Rocket Launch site Cape Canaveral in about three months from now. After that, Falcon Heavy will be launched. The launch complexes at cape Canaveral had sustained a lot of damage with the explosion in 2016. However, now they’re almost ready to handle the high profile launch.

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