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Falcon Heavy

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Falcon Heavy

Falcon Heavy

Drawing of the Falcon Heavy reusable (left) and expendable (right) configurations
Function Orbital launch vehicle and potential Lunar launch vehicle[1]
Manufacturer SpaceX
Country of origin United States
Cost per launch (2015) $85M for up to 6,400 kg to GTO
Height 68.4 m (224 ft)
Diameter 3.66 m (12.0 ft)
Mass 1,462,836 kg (3,225,001 lb)
Stages 2+
Payload to LEO 53,000 kg (117,000 lb)
Payload to
21,200 kg (46,700 lb)
Launch history
Status In Development
Launch sites KSC LC-39A
Vandenberg SLC-4E[2]
Total launches 0
Successes 0
Failures 0
First flight 2015 (projected)
Boosters (Stage 0)
No. boosters 2
Engines 9 Merlin 1D
Thrust 5,880 kN (1,323,000 lbf)(sl)
Total thrust 17,615 kN (3,960,000 lbf) (total sea-level thrust of boosters plus core)[3]
Specific impulse Sea level: 282 sec
Vacuum: 311 sec
Burn time Unknown
Fuel LOX/RP-1
First stage
Engines 9 Merlin 1D
Thrust 5,880 kN (1,323,000 lbf)(sl)
Specific impulse Sea level: 282 sec
Vacuum: 311 sec
Burn time
Fuel LOX/RP-1
Second stage
Engines 1 Merlin 1D Vacuum
Thrust 801 kN (180,000 lbf)
Specific impulse Vacuum: 342 sec [4]
Burn time 375 seconds[5]
Fuel LOX/RP-1

Falcon Heavy (FH), previously known as the Falcon 9 Heavy, is a spaceflight launch system being designed and manufactured by SpaceX. The Falcon Heavy is a variant of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle and will consist of a standard Falcon 9 rocket core, with two additional Falcon 9 first stages as strap-on boosters[6] – this will increase the low Earth orbit (LEO) payload to about 53 tonnes, compared to about 13 tonnes for a Falcon 9. The first launch is expected in 2015.[7]


SpaceX breaking ground at Vandenberg AFB SLC-4E for the Falcon Heavy launch pad

At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. on 5 April 2011, Elon Musk stated, “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.”[8]

SpaceX originally announced that the Falcon Heavy demonstration rocket would arrive at its west-coast launch location, Vandenberg AFB, California, before the end of 2012,[9] with a launch planned for 2013.[10] After early launches from Vandenberg, the first launch from the Cape Canaveral east coast launch complex was planned for late 2013 or 2014.[8] By late 2012, the company modified the planned first launch date to 2013.[11] Originally, the first launch from the east-coast Cape Canaveral launch complex was planned for 2013, but it is currently scheduled for 2015 with the STP-2 US Air Force payload.[12]

While the initial specifications of the new launcher in April 2011 projected LEO payloads of up to 53,000 kilograms (117,000 lb)[13] and GTO payloads up to 12,000 kilograms (26,000 lb),[14] later reports in 2011 projected higher payloads beyond low Earth orbit, including 19,000 kilograms (42,000 lb) to geostationary transfer orbit,[15] 16,000 kilograms (35,000 lb) to translunar trajectory, and 14,000 kilograms (31,000 lb) on a trans-Martian orbit to Mars.[9][16]

By late 2013, SpaceX had raised the projected GTO payload for Falcon Heavy to up to 21,200 kilograms (46,700 lb).[17]

The Falcon Heavy falls into the "super heavy-lift" range of launch systems under the classification system used by a NASA human spaceflight review panel.[18] SpaceX states that the Falcon Heavy will be able to deliver more payload to orbit than any launch vehicle since the Saturn V (1967-1973);[5] the Soviet Energia rocket (which launched twice between 1987 and 1988) could potentially deliver more payload to orbit than the Falcon Heavy when launched without the Buran space shuttle, but Energia was never successfully flown in this capacity (though Energia functioned, the payload failed to complete orbital insertion).[19]


From left to right, Falcon 1, Falcon 9 v1.0, three versions of Falcon 9 v1.1, and two versions of the Falcon Heavy

The Falcon Heavy configuration consists of a standard Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as liquid strap-on boosters,[6] which is conceptually similar to EELV Delta IV Heavy launcher and proposals for the Atlas V HLV and Russian Angara. Falcon Heavy will be more capable than any other operational rocket, with a payload to low earth orbit of 53,000 kilograms (117,000 lb).[10] The rocket was designed to meet or exceed all current requirements of human rating. The structural safety margins are 40% above flight loads, higher than the 25% margins of other rockets.[20]

The Falcon Heavy's designed payload capacity, capabilities, and total thrust are equivalent to the Saturn C-3 launch vehicle concept (1960) for the Earth Orbit Rendezvous approach to an American lunar landing.[21]

First stage

The first stage is powered by three Falcon 9 derived cores, each equipped with 9 Merlin 1D engines. The Merlin 1D is an updated version of the previous Merlin 1C engine and provides a sea level thrust of 620 kN (140,000 lbf) at a specific impulse of 282 seconds,[22] a vacuum thrust of 690 kN (155,000 lbf) at 311 seconds,[22] and is throttleable from 100% to 70%.[23]

The Falcon Heavy has a total sea-level thrust at liftoff of 17,615 kN (3,960,000 lbf), from the 27 Merlin 1D engines, while thrust rises to 20,000 kilonewtons (4,500,000 lbf) as the craft climbs out of the atmosphere.[5] Falcon Heavy has been designed with a unique propellant crossfeed capability, where some of the center core engines are supplied with fuel and oxidizer from the two side cores, up until the side cores are near empty and ready for the first separation event.[24] This allows engines from all three cores to ignite at launch and operate at full thrust until booster depletion, while still leaving the central core with most of its propellant at booster separation.[25]

After the side cores are released, the center engine in each side core will continue to burn for a few seconds in order to control the trajectory of the side booster.[26][27]

All three cores of the Falcon Heavy arrange the engines in a structural form SpaceX calls Octaweb, aimed at streamlining the manufacturing process,[28] and each core will include four extensible landing legs,[27] which are intended to be used for vertical-landing once the post-mission technology development effort is completed.[29]

Second stage

The upper stage is powered by a single Merlin 1D engine modified for vacuum operation, with an expansion ratio of 117:1 and a nominal burn time of 345 seconds. For added reliability of restart, the engine has dual redundant pyrophoric igniters (TEA-TEB).[6]

The interstage, which connects the upper and lower stage for Falcon 9, is a carbon fiber aluminum core composite structure. Stage separation occurs via reusable separation collets and a pneumatic pusher system. The Falcon 9 tank walls and domes are made from aluminum lithium alloy. SpaceX uses an all-friction stir welded tank. The second stage tank of Falcon 9 is simply a shorter version of the first stage tank and uses most of the same tooling, material and manufacturing techniques. This approach reduces manufacturing costs during vehicle production.[6]

Reusable technology development

Although not a part of the initial Falcon Heavy design, SpaceX is doing parallel development on a reusable rocket launching system that is intended to be extensible to the Falcon Heavy, first to the booster stage and ultimately to the second stage as well.

Early on, SpaceX had expressed hopes that both rocket stages would eventually be reusable.[30] More recently, in 2011, SpaceX announced a funded development program to build and fly a reusable launch system that will ultimately bring a first stage back to the launch site in minutes — and a second stage back to the launch pad, following orbital realignment with the launch site and atmospheric reentry, in up to 24 hours — with both stages designed to be available for reuse within "single-digit hours" after return.[31] As of February 2012, design is complete on the system for "bringing the rocket back to launchpad using only thrusters."[31]

The reusable launch system technology is under consideration for both the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy. It is particularly well suited to the Falcon Heavy where the two outer cores separate from the rocket much earlier in the flight profile, and are therefore both moving at a slower velocity at the initial separation event.[31]

As of March 2013, the publicly announced aspects of the SpaceX reusable rocket technology development effort include an active test campaign of the low-altitude, low-speed Grasshopper vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) technology demonstrator rocket,[32][33] and a high-altitude, high-speed Falcon 9 post-mission booster-return test campaign where—beginning in late-2013, with the sixth overall flight of Falcon 9—every Falcon 9 first stage which was instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle to accomplish propulsive-return over-water tests.[29]

SpaceX has indicated that the Falcon Heavy payload performance to Geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) will be reduced by addition of the reusable technology, but would fly at much lower launch price. With full reusability on all three booster cores, GTO payload will be 7,000 kg (15,000 lb). If only the two outside cores fly as reusable cores while the center core is expendable, GTO payload would be approximately 14,000 kg (31,000 lb).[34] "Falcon 9 will do satellites up to roughly 3.5 tonnes, with full reusability of the boost stage, and Falcon Heavy will do satellites up to 7 tonnes with full reusability of the all three boost stages," [Musk] said, referring to the three Falcon 9 booster cores that will comprise the Falcon Heavy's first stage. He also said Falcon Heavy could double its payload performance to GTO "if, for example, we went expendable on the center core."

Pricing and development funding

At an appearance in May 2004 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Elon Musk testified, "Long term plans call for development of a heavy lift product and even a super-heavy, if there is customer demand. We expect that each size increase would result in a meaningful decrease in cost per pound to orbit. ... Ultimately, I believe $500 per pound or less is very achievable."[35] This $500 per pound goal stated by Musk in 2011 is 35 percent of the cost of the lowest-cost-per-pound LEO-capable launch system in a circa-2000 study, referenced by in 2001, the Zenit, a medium-lift launch vehicle that can carry 14,000 kilograms (30,000 lb) into LEO.[36]

As of March 2013, Falcon Heavy launch prices are below $1,000 per pound ($2,200/kg) to low-Earth orbit when the launch vehicle is transporting its maximum delivered cargo weight.[37] The published prices for Falcon Heavy launches have moved some from year to year, with announced prices for the various versions of Falcon Heavy priced at US$80-125 million in 2011,[13] US$83-128 million in 2012,[14] US$77.1-135 million in 2013,[38] and US$85 million for up to 6,400 kg to GTO (with no published price for heavier GTO or any LEO payload) in 2014.[39] Launch contracts typically reflect launch prices at the time the contract is signed.

SpaceX has claimed the cost of reaching low Earth orbit can be as low as US$1,000/lb if an annual rate of four launches can be sustained, and as of 2011 planned to eventually launch 10 Falcon Heavy and 10 Falcon 9 annually.[9] A third launch site, intended exclusively for SpaceX private use, is planned at a site near Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX expects to start construction on the third Falcon Heavy launch facility, after final site selection, no earlier than 2014, with the first launches from the facility no earlier than 2016.[40] In late 2013, SpaceX had projected Falcon Heavy's inaugural flight to be sometime in 2014,[5] but as of March 2014 expects the first launch to be in 2015[41] due to limited manufacturing capacity and the need to deliver on the Falcon 9 launch manifest.[7]

The Falcon Heavy is being developed with private capital. No government financing is being provided for its development.[42]

SpaceX current prices for space launch are already the lowest in the industry.[43] If SpaceX is able to successfully complete development on its SpaceX reusable rocket technology and return booster stages to the launch pad for reuse, a new economically-driven Space Age could result.[42][44]


A new, partially underground test stand is being built at the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas specifically to test the triple cores and twenty seven rocket engines of the Falcon Heavy.[45]

Launches and potential payloads

Flight Number Date & Time (GMT) Payload Customer Outcome Remarks
1 2015[46][47] Falcon Heavy Demo Flight 1 SpaceX Scheduled Hardware is expected to arrive at the Kennedy Space Center in 2014[46]
2 2015[46] Falcon Heavy Demo Flight 2 called: STP-2[48]
Payload: GPIM[49][50][51]
DoD Scheduled The mission will support the U.S. Air Force EELV certification process for the Falcon Heavy.[47]
3 2016 ViaSat-2 ViaSat Inc. Scheduled Ka-Band broadband satellite.
4 2017[47] Communications satellite[52] Intelsat[53] Scheduled First commercial mission that was booked specifically for Falcon Heavy.[53] First booked launch to a Geostationary transfer orbit for Falcon Heavy.[52]

First commercial contract: Intelsat

In May 2012, SpaceX announced that Intelsat had signed the first commercial contract for a Falcon Heavy flight. It was not confirmed when the first Intelsat launch would occur, but the agreement will have SpaceX delivering satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit.[52][53]

First DoD contract: USAF

In December 2012, SpaceX announced its first Falcon Heavy launch contract with the United States Department of Defense (DoD). "The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded SpaceX two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class missions" including the Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) mission for Falcon Heavy, initially scheduled to be launched in 2016.[54][48][55]

The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) will be a STP-2 payload; it is a technology demonstrator project partly developed by the US Air Force.[49][56]

Proposed missions

In 2011, NASA Ames Research Center proposed a Mars mission "Red Dragon" that would use Falcon Heavy as the launch vehicle and trans-Martian injection vehicle, and the Dragon capsule to enter the Martian atmosphere. The proposed science objectives were to detect "molecules that are proof of life, like DNA or perchlorate reductase" and to drill 3.3 feet (1.0 m) or so underground, in an effort to sample reservoirs of water ice known to lurk under the red dirt." The mission cost as of 2011 was projected to be less than US$425,000,000, not including the launch cost.[57] The concept was to be formally proposed in 2012/2013 as a NASA Discovery mission but has not been selected for funding.[58]

See also


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  2. ^ Clark, Stephen (11 March 2012). "SpaceX eyes shuttle launch pad for heavy-lift rocket". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2012-03-12. 
  3. ^ "Falcon Heavy". [SpaceX]. Retrieved 2014-07-09. 
  4. ^ "SpaceX Falcon 9 Upper Stage Engine Successfully Completes Full Mission Duration Firing" (Press release). SpaceX. March 10, 2009. 
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  6. ^ a b c d "Falcon 9 Overview". SpaceX. 8 May 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Svitak, Amy (2014-03-10). "SpaceX Says Falcon 9 To Compete For EELV This Year". Aviation Week. Retrieved 2014-03-11. We need to find three additional cores that we could produce, send them through testing and then fly without disrupting our launch manifest,' Musk says. 'I'm hopeful we'll have Falcon Heavy cores produced approximately around the end of the year. But just to get through test and qualification, I think it's probably going to be sometime early next year when we launch.' 
  8. ^ a b "SpaceX announces launch date for FH". 2011-04-05. Retrieved 2011-08-25. First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014. 
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  10. ^ a b "US co. SpaceX to build heavy-lift, low-cost rocket". Reuters. 5 April 2011. Archived from the original on 5 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-05. 
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  14. ^ a b "Space Exploration Technologies Corporation - Falcon Heavy". SpaceX. 2011-12-03. Retrieved 2011-12-03. 
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  18. ^ HSF Final Report: Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, October 2009, Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, p. 64-66: "5.2.1 The Need for Heavy Lift ... require a “super heavy-lift” launch vehicle ... range of 25 to 40 mt, setting a notional lower limit on the size of the super heavy-lift launch vehicle if refueling is available ... this strongly favors a minimum heavy-lift capacity of roughly 50 mt ..."
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  21. ^ "Saturn C-3". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
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  24. ^ (this technique is nick-named 'Asparagus staging') Strickland, John K., Jr. (September 2011). "The SpaceX Falcon Heavy Booster". National Space Society. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
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  26. ^ Nield, George C. (April 2014). Draft Environmental Impact Statement: SpaceX Texas Launch Site (Report). 1. Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Commercial Space Transportation ". pp. 2–3. "The center core engines are throttled down after liftoff and up to two engines may be shut down as the vehicle approaches maximum acceleration. After the side boosters drop off, the center core engines throttle back up to full thrust. The center engine in each side core continues to burn for a few seconds after separation to control the descent trajectorie of the side boosters."
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  28. ^ "Octaweb". SpaceX News. 2013-04-12. Retrieved 2013-08-02. The Octaweb structure of the nine Merlin engines improves upon the former 3x3 engine arrangement. The Octaweb is a metal structure that supports eight engines surrounding a center engine at the base of the launch vehicle. This structure simplifies the design and assembly of the engine section, streamlining our manufacturing process. 
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  38. ^ [1]. Retrieved 2014-03-25.
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  47. ^ a b c Leone, Dan (2014-07-24). "Solar Probe Plus, NASA’s ‘Mission to the Fires of Hell,’ Trading Atlas 5 for Bigger Launch Vehicle". Space News. Retrieved 2014-07-25. SpaceX, has three Falcon Heavy launches on its manifest between now and 2017: an inaugural demonstration launch planned for 2015 followed in short order by the shared launch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory and the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program-2 experimental spacecraft, and a 2017 launch of a commercial communications satellite for Intelsat of Washington and Luxembourg. 
  48. ^ a b Lindsay, Clark (2012-12-05). "SpaceX awarded 2 EELV-Class missions from the USAF". NewSpace Watch. Retrieved 2012-12-15. (subscription required (help)). 
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  57. ^ Wall, Mike (2011-07-31). Red Dragon' Mission Mulled as Cheap Search for Mars Life"'". Retrieved 2011-07-31. This so-called "Red Dragon" mission, which could be ready to launch by 2018, would carry a cost of about $400 million or less. ... developing the Red Dragon concept as a potential NASA Discovery mission, a category that stresses exploration on the relative cheap. ... NASA will make another call for Discovery proposals in 18 months or so... If Red Dragon is selected in that round, it could launch toward Mars in 2018. ... Assuming that $425 million cap [for NASA Discovery missions] is still in place, Red Dragon could come in significantly under the bar. We'd have money left over to do some science. 
  58. ^ "Discovery Program". NASA Discovery Program Office. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 

External links

  • Falcon Heavy official page
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