SpaceX may finally be nearing a launch of its huge new Falcon Heavy rocket, which will be the most powerful rocket currently in operation.
On Twitter yesterday, the company posted a video of a test of the center core of the rocket. In total the Falcon Heavy will have three cores, compared to one on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The Falcon Heavy has been teased for years, with its inaugural flight continually pushed back. But CEO Elon Musk has hinted that the first launch will be coming this year, as early as the summer.
This latest test seems to suggest that might be a possibility, although a more conservative estimate would point towards the end of the year.
In the test, the main core of the rocket was strapped down while its engines fired, proving that it worked as planned. The company hasn’t yet released any further details about the test.
Once it starts flying, Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in operation – and second only to the Saturn V in history. It will be able to take 54,400 kilograms (119,900 pounds) to low Earth orbit, compared to 28,790 kilograms (63,470 pounds) for the Delta IV Heavy, the world's current most powerful rocket.
The first flight is only going to be a test, with no actual useful payload scheduled to be on board. Musk previously said they would launch “the silliest thing we can imagine.” The first flight of their Dragon spacecraft in 2010 carried, among other things, a wheel of cheese.
One issue preventing the launch taking place, however, is that SpaceX only has one operational launch pad (LC-39A) at Cape Canaveral in Florida, where the Falcon Heavy will launch from. Their other, LC-40, was damaged when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded in September 2016.
It’s thought SpaceX will not attempt a launch of the Falcon Heavy until they have two operational pads, in case something goes wrong. But it’s not clear when LC-40 will be up and running again.
Musk also said that the unexpected complexity of the rocket had caused its launch to be pushed back. “At first it sounded easy, but actually, no, this is crazy hard," he said earlier this year.
Once it does get up and running, you can expect big things. It will be capable of sending humans on a mission around the Moon, and may also be used for SpaceX’s planned unmanned missions to Mars in 2020 and beyond.