- SpaceX plans to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket system on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. ET, though a lot could still change before then.
- If it’s a success, Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful and cheapest way to launch heavy payloads into space.
- With some modifications, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk thinks the system could even be nearly as powerful as the most powerful rocket ever used to launch payloads, the Saturn V.
If SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch on Tuesday is successful, CEO Elon Musk thinks the success will blow away the competition for launching heavy loads into space.
“If we are successful in this, it is game over for all the other heavy lift rockets,” Musk said Monday evening on a press call.
The first launch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday and will be broadcast live. If it succeeds, the system will not only be cheaper than any other operational heavy launch vehicle, but it’ll also be the most powerful (some retired rockets, like the Saturn V, were more powerful).
Musk believes that if the Falcon Heavy can successfully get its very cool payload into space, it will no longer make sense to use other vehicles certified for heavy lift launches, like the Delta IV Heavy, Russia’s Proton, or Europe’s Ariane 5. That’s because of the same reason SpaceX’s other rockets are already revolutionizing the business of getting to space – it’s a lot cheaper to reuse the rocket boosters that propel something out of Earth’s gravity well than to use new ones every time.
The Falcon Heavy has three boosters attached to each Falcon 9 rocket, and SpaceX has become quite good at recovering them for refurbishment and reuse. Other existing launch systems can’t recycle their boosters.
Cranking up the power
The Falcon Heavy isn’t the only high-powered rocket SpaceX has in the works – the company is also working on a system known as the BFR, which it plans to certify for crewed missions. Musk said it was designed to be reused more quickly than the Falcon Heavy.
If SpaceX wanted to make Falcon Heavy even more powerful, according to Musk, the company could bring up the power pretty close to that of the Saturn V, the most powerful rocket in history. That’s because Falcon Heavy essentially takes the Falcon 9 system, which SpaceX has now launched and landed quite a few times, and adds two identical first-stage boosters (which provide most of the rocket’s thrust) to the sides of the central booster, cranking up the power.
“We could really dial it up to as much performance as anyone could ever want. If we wanted to, we could actually add two more side boosters and make it Falcon Super Heavy … I think we can crank up thrust and probably get upwards of 9 million pounds of thrust,” Musk said on the press call.
For now, it appears unnecessary for SpaceX to make a rocket that powerful. It would need extra testing and provide more power than what planned future Falcon Heavy missions would require.
It still has to work
With launch scheduled for Tuesday and weather looking good, there’s still a lot that could go wrong.
“It will be a real huge downer if it blows up, but … if something goes wrong, hopefully it goes wrong far into the mission so we at least learn as much as possible along the way,” Musk told Business Insider’s space correspondent, Dave Mosher, on the call. “I’ll be happy, I’ll consider it a win if it clears the pad and doesn’t blow the pad to smithereens.”
If Falcon Heavy blows up the launchpad, rebuilding will take nine months to a year, Musk said. There are still plenty of ways for it to fail once it gets off the ground – the structure could be torn apart by supersonic shockwaves or the side boosters may not separate, since that system has never been tested, for example – but at that point, SpaceX could probably launch another Falcon Heavy within a few months.
A successful flight would prove that at least the initial design works. Musk seems hopeful.
“I’m sure we’ve done everything we could do to maximize the chance of success for this mission,” he said.
“It’s either going to be an exciting success or an exciting failure – one big boom. So I’d say tune in,” Musk said. “It’s going to be worth your time.”