The most powerful present-day rocket in the world which also has the largest payload capacity is SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, except one drawback — it has never even been fully tested, let alone flown. But company CEO Elon Musk announced late Thursday that SpaceX will finally test the Falcon Heavy in November, the clearest indication yet of the rocket’s “maiden launch.”
Musk made the announcement on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Even though the exact date for the test launch is not yet known, it will take place from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, since SpaceX does not have the facilities at its development site in Texas to support the thrust produced by the Falcon Heavy. With the power of almost three Falcon 9 rockets (27 Merlin engines, compared to nine in the Falcon 9), the Falcon Heavy is expected to generate 5.1 million pounds of thrust at take-off.
The 27 engines actually come from three cores in the rocket’s first stage, each of which is a Falcon 9 rocket, one of them as the center booster and the other two as side boosters. After lift-off, the center core engines throttle down, and the side cores power the rocket till the end of the first stage, when the two boosters separate and the center core powers up to full thrust again.
In another tweet Thursday, Musk said the two side boosters will return to the Cape Canaveral facility in Florida, while the central booster will land on a droneship. SpaceX has demonstrated successfully a few times both types of landings that allow it to reuse its rockets.
The only rocket which had a larger payload capacity than the Falcon Heavy’s 54 metric tons (119,000 pounds) was the Saturn V moon rocket, which last flew in 1973. SpaceX claims the Falcon Heavy can carry twice the payload than the largest capacity rocket in operation, the Delta IV Heavy manufactured by United Launch Alliance (a joint venture of Lockheed Martin…