After a series of lengthy delays and shifting priorities, SpaceX finally announced a semi-solid timeline for when it intends to launch the massive Falcon Heavy rocket on its maiden voyage. While speaking at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronauts’ Space 2015 conference, SpaceX’s vice president of mission and launch operations Lee Rosen confirmed a “late April-early May” 2016 window for the Falcon Heavy’s launch into the ether.
In development since 2011, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is essentially three Falcon 9 vehicles strapped to each other with a small amount of necessary structure modification. Under the hood, the Falcon Heavy packs 27 of the SpaceX-developed Merlin engines, making the Falcon Heavy the most powerful U.S. rocket since the Apollo program’s Saturn V rocket. Once production on the Falcon Heavy is complete, the rocket will reportedly have the capability of launching some 116,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. In other words, this thing is gargantuan.
Though the rocket won’t actually have any sort of payload on board for its Spring 2016 blast off (the launch is simply a demonstration) SpaceX does plan on using the Falcon Heavy for actual paying customers (i.e. the U.S. Air Force, Inmarsat, and ViaSat) the following September. Obviously, any intention of fulfilling these plans hinges on the Falcon Heavy enjoying a successful initial launch, something SpaceX has had a little bit of trouble with lately. The Elon Musk-headed company even admitted its failed Falcon 9 launch earlier this year led to work on the Falcon Heavy to be “deprioritized,” according to Musk himself.
After devoting most of its resources to return-to-flight activities, SpaceX now intends to refocus efforts on its Falcon Heavy rocket program which includes renovating an old NASA launch pad to sustain the rocket’s launch. SpaceX acquired the lease to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in April of 2014, and has since added a bevy of support features to accommodate either a Falcon Heavy launch or a launch of one of its Falcon 9 rockets. After adding a hangar near the pad itself, SpaceX also outfitted the area with a rail system which makes it easier to transport rocket parts from Complex 39A’s hangar to the launch area.
If the launch goes anything like SpaceX’s animated rendering (embedded above), then the Falcon Heavy’s Spring 2016 blast off figures to be an absolute marvel. Though to be honest, literally anything cooked up by Elon Musk has “outrageous spectacle” written all over it, for better or worse.