As the culmination of seven years of development, Space X is set to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket on its maiden voyage next week. A successful launch would set the record for the most powerful launch vehicle ever used, according to Wired. It was test fired last week at Kennedy Space Center, where it set a record for the most powerful engine test, generating over 5 million pounds of thrust.
The launch is slated for 1:30 PM eastern time on February 6th, for which the Cape Canaveral visitor center has already sold out of its close viewing spots. The group in attendance will include Buzz Aldrin, who launched from the same pad on his lunar-bound Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
As the world’s most powerful launcher, the Falcon Heavy would be able to launch heavier cargo into space, including national security satellites, larger habitats for experiments, telescopes, and potentially, could even launch human crews to deep space missions.
A three-core rocket with 27 engines, the Falcon Heavy is capable of bringing 140,000 pounds of cargo into low Earth orbit, offering double the capacity of any currently available rocket.
While NASA’s current project, the Space Launch System, is aiming for an even more massive rocket with slightly higher capacity than the Falcon Heavy, operating costs may run as much as ten times higher, according to early estimates – and it won’t be making its first flight for years.
Some observers think that once it begins making flights successfully, the Falcon Heavy may undercut demand for the SLS when it comes to projects like the Trump administration plan to return to the moon. NASA has estimated than one SLS flight will cost roughly one billion dollars, and the project has already cost nearly 19 billion in development over the past decade. Repeated delays have also plagued the SLS project.
By making unprecedented progress in the use of recycled rockets, Space X has successfully reduced many of the massive costs associated with space travel. The company plans to take this innovation even further, aiming to recover and relaunch boosters in a 24-hour period. Space X is hoping to recover two of the Falcon Heavy’s side boosters after the launch next week.
According to space consultant Laura Forczyk:
“When you’re talking about the differences in budgets, it’s phenomenal how less expensive Falcon Heavy is compared to a government rocket like SLS.”