While the more cynical among you may be tempted to view such a plan as a simple case of showing off, there is of course a perfectly good reason for attempting such a feat.
It centers on SpaceX’s ambition to put into operation its Falcon Heavy rocket, one that, as its name suggests, packs a whole lot more power than its current Falcon 9 machine. That power comes via its two additional boosters, sections that would separate soon after lift-off and return to Earth, followed a short time later by the primary central rocket.
Elon Musk’s private space company told the Orlando Sentinel this week that it hopes to launch the Falcon Heavy for the first time later this year. In preparation, it’s currently seeking regulatory approval to build two additional landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, though SpaceX added that first it may attempt the triple touchdown on a floating barge, a feat it’s already achieved on three occasions, each time with a single rocket.
When it lifts off in the coming months, the Falcon Heavy will be the world’s most powerful rocket in operation. Its thrust is equal to that of eighteen 747 aircraft going at full power, or, to put it another way, twice the thrust of any other rocket currently in operation.
That awesome power will allow it to lift into orbit more than 54 metric tons (119,000 lb), or, as the company puts it, “a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel.” More significantly, the rocket will be able to lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, currently the Delta IV Heavy, at just a third of the cost.
Excited at the prospect of nailing what would undoubtedly be SpaceX’s most awesome achievement yet, Elon Musk tweeted this week, “Can’t wait to see all three cores of Falcon Heavy come back for landings!”
Improving its rocket technology is a key part of SpaceX’s grand plan to one day launch manned missions to Mars using its reusable rocket system and its Red Dragon space capsule. Its first attempt at an unmanned mission to the red planet could take place as early as 2018.
Check out the video above to see how SpaceX envisages the various stages of a Falcon Heavy mission, ending with the impressive triple landing.
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