SpaceX has been launching and landing its Falcon 9 rocket on such a regular basis recently that the missions hardly make the news these days, a testament to the impressive progress made by Elon Musk’s private space company in recent years.
So now attention is turning to the Falcon Heavy, which Musk says will be “the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two.” Sporting not one, or two, but three boosters with nine engines each, the Falcon Heavy will have twice the thrust of the next largest rocket at lift-off — equal to about eighteen 747 aircraft — and space enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting its maiden mission. But no one is quite sure when it’ll be.
Earlier this year, SpaceX mentioned November as a possibility, but November is here and the launch has reportedly been delayed due to issues linked to launchpad availability, which is partly down to SpaceX’s own busy launch manifest with its current Falcon 9 rocket.
Now a new report from NASASpaceflight this week confidently claims SpaceX is planning to launch the Falcon Heavy for the first time “in the late-December time period.” Specifically, it says Musk’s company wants to perform a static test-fire of the boosters in the middle of next month, followed by a launch on December 29.
The report takes into account the length of time it’ll take to convert Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A for the Falcon Heavy, with one rocket launch remaining before the work can begin. In September, Musk said during a presentation in Australia that he hoped the Heavy would launch “toward the end of the year.”
Musk, a man who comes up with ideas of huge ambition the way most of us come up with ideas for breakfast, recently teased space fans with an animation showing how the Falcon Heavy launch might look. It shows the extraordinarily powerful rocket leaving the launchpad before the start of various separation steps, and ends with its booster cores landing back on Earth, a maneuver once considered wildly ambitious but now pretty much perfected by SpaceX. But mindful of the issues experienced with the Falcon 9 over the years, Musk noted that a lot “can go wrong” with the Heavy in its early, complex missions.
SpaceX’s rocket system, which has been in development since the company’s founding in 2002, is designed to enable the reuse of rockets as part of a plan to dramatically cut the cost of space travel and pave the way for manned missions into deep space.
Fingers crossed SpaceX can get the Heavy off the ground in December — it would certainly be a spectacular way to end what has been a successful year for the company.
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