SpaceX is planning to launch its huge new Falcon Heavy rocket by the end of the year, which will be the world’s most powerful rocket in operation today.
Although Elon Musk’s company hasn’t made a formal announcement yet, NASASpaceflight.com reports that the company is preparing for a launch date of no earlier than Friday, December 29.
This would cap a wildly successful year for the company, which has already doubled its record for launches in a single year by sending 16 rockets to space. Thirteen of those have included landings of the Falcon 9’s first stage.
The company has three other launches planned this year. One is a mysterious launch on November 16 that has been codenamed Zuma. The others are a Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 4, and an Iridium satellite launch on December 22.
If these launches and the Falcon Heavy take place, the company will have an impressive total of 20 rocket flights for 2017. It has not yet been announced what the Falcon Heavy will take to space, but it’s likely to include a tongue-in-cheek payload; the company included a wheel of cheese on its first flight of the Dragon capsule in 2010, a reference to Monty Python.
The plan is to launch it from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following the refurbishment of a second pad – LC-40 – that can be used by Falcon 9 in case the Falcon Heavy launch is a failure.
Musk has previously noted the inaugural launch of Falcon Heavy is risky, saying that the development of the rocket has proved to be more complex than thought.
The Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together, stacked to a height of 70 meters (230 feet). It will be capable of taking 63,800 kilograms (140,700 pounds) to low Earth orbit, more than double the most powerful rocket currently in operation, the Delta IV Heavy (28,790 kilograms or 63,470 pounds to low Earth orbit).
This will not make it the most powerful rocket of all time, though. That accolade still belongs to the Saturn V rocket used to take astronauts to the Moon, which could lift 140,000 kilograms (310,000 pounds) to low Earth orbit.
But launching the Falcon Heavy will be a huge boon for SpaceX, which has long kept its fans waiting for the first launch of this huge rocket. The company has been known to miss targets before, though, so whether they’ll make the launch date of December 29 remains to be seen.
Even if that slips, though, one would hope the inaugural launch is not too far away.