Musk Sets High Expectations for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Launch Vehicle
[Satellite News 04-05-11] SpaceX unveiled its Falcon Heavy rocket and expects the first demonstration launch of the vehicle to take place at Vandenberg Air Force, Calif., as early as 2013, CEO and CTO Elon Musk announced April 5 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.
The Merlin engine-powered Falcon Heavy rocket had been in development for years and has been designed to carry more than 58 tons (117,000 pounds) of cargo into low-Earth orbit, surpassed only by NASA’s Saturn 5 rocket. “This is a rocket of truly huge scale,” Musk said of the Falcon Heavy.
SpaceX estimates that the average cost of a mission would be between $80 million to $125 million. The vehicle initially would be offered as an alternative to Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 5 and Boeing’s Delta 4 vehicles developed under the U.S. military’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The two vehicles conduct launches for the U.S. government under the United Launch Alliance joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
“A Falcon heavy launch will cost $1,000 per pound to orbit, which is one-third of the cost of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 Heavy and can carry twice as much cargo and provide twice as much lifting, as the Delta 4 is only capable of carrying 25 tons,” Musk said. “… This provides six times more cost efficiency over the Delta 4 for satellite operators.”
While SpaceX initially will offer the Falcon Heavy for satellite launches, the vehicle was designed to meet and exceed NASA human safety standards. “Falcon 9 can only go to the International Space Station in [low-Earth orbit]. Falcon Heavy can go well beyond that. Our ultimate mission is to go to the moon and even Mars. We hope the rocket’s capacity will re-open spaceflight horizons that have faded over the decades,” he said.
SpaceX plans to combine the Falcon Heavy with the company’s Dragon capsule to demonstrate a lunar flyby, as was done during NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in 1968, as well as carrying a robotic mission to bring samples back from Mars. The payload of this Mars mission would be about a quarter of the size of a payload to LEO.
“By our projections, Falcon Heavy’s capability will generate enough business for us that, in the long term, we will be producing a higher volume of [Merlin] engines than the rest of the world combined,” Musk said.