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Author Topic: SpaceX Heavy  (Read 22972 times)

Offline Johnbr

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SpaceX Heavy
« on: April 05, 2011, 02:03:47 pm »
SpaceX Announces Launch Date for the World's Most Powerful Rocket

Falcon Heavy will lift more than twice as much as any other launch vehicle

WASHINGTON – Today, Elon Musk, CEO and chief rocket designer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) unveiled the dramatic final specifications and launch date for the Falcon Heavy, the world’s largest rocket.

“Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions,” Musk told a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

"Falcon Heavy will arrive at our Vandenberg, California, launch complex by the end of next year, with liftoff to follow soon thereafter.  First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014.”

Musk added that with the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft weighing over 53 metric tons or 117,000 pounds to orbit, Falcon Heavy will have more than twice the performance of the Space Shuttle or Delta IV Heavy, the next most powerful vehicle, which is  operated by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

Just for perspective, 53 metric tons is more than the maximum take-off weight of a fully-loaded Boeing 737-200 with 136 passengers. In other words, Falcon Heavy can deliver the equivalent of an entire airline flight full of passengers, crew, luggage and fuel all the way to orbit.

View the launch simulation video at www.spacex.com/multimedia/videos.php?id=59 or on YouTube at

Falcon Heavy’s first stage will be made up of three nine-engine cores, which are used as the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.  It will be powered by SpaceX’s upgraded Merlin engines currently being tested at the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.  Falcon Heavy will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.  This is the equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747s taking off at the same time.

Above all, Falcon Heavy has been designed for extreme reliability.  Unique safety features of the Falcon 9 are preserved, such as the ability to complete its mission even if multiple engines fail. Like a commercial airliner, each engine is surrounded by a protective shell that contains a worst case situation like fire or a chamber rupture, preventing it from affecting other engines or the vehicle itself.

Anticipating potential astronaut transport needs, Falcon Heavy is also designed to meet NASA human rating standards, unlike other satellite launch vehicles.  For example, this means designing to higher structural safety margins of 40% above flight loads, rather than the 25% level of other rockets, and triple redundant avionics.

Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to do propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core, thus leaving the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate. The net effect is that Falcon Heavy achieves performance comparable to a three stage rocket, even though only the upper stage is airlit, further improving both payload performance and reliability.  Crossfeed is not required for missions below 100,000 lbs, and can be turned off if desired.

Despite being designed to higher structural margins than other rockets, the side booster stages will have a mass ratio (full of propellant vs empty) above 30, better than any vehicle of any kind in history.

Falcon Heavy, with more than twice the payload, but less than one third the cost of a Delta IV Heavy, will provide much needed relief to government and commercial budgets. In fact, Falcon Heavy at approximately $1,000 per pound to orbit, sets a new world record in affordable spaceflight.

This year, even as the Department of Defense budget was cut, the EELV launch program, which includes the Delta IV, still saw a thirty percent increase.

The 2012 budget for four Air Force launches is $1.74B, which is an average of $435M per launch. Falcon 9 is offered on the commercial market for $50-60M and Falcon Heavy is offered for $80-$125M. Unlike our competitors, this price includes all non-recurring development costs and on-orbit delivery of an agreed upon mission. For government missions, NASA has added mission assurance and additional services to the Falcon 9 for less than $20M.

Vehicle Overview

Mass to Orbit (200 km, 28.5 deg):      53 metric tons (117,000 lbs)
Length:                                            69.2 meters (227 ft)
Max Stage Width:                             5.2 m (17 ft)
Total Width:                                     11.6 meters (38 ft)
Weight at Liftoff:                               1,400 metric tons or 3.1 million lbs
Thrust on Liftoff:                                1,700 metric tons or 3.8 million lbs

Please note that Falcon Heavy should not be confused with the super heavy lift rocket program being debated by the US Congress.  That vehicle is intended to carry approximately 150 tons to orbit.  SpaceX agrees with the need to develop a vehicle of that class as the best way to conduct a large number of human missions to Mars.




Offline sferrin

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2011, 02:11:25 pm »
Given that there are scores (if not hundreds) of designs as powerful or more powerful than this thing that never made it to flight I'm going to have to go with "I'll believe it when I see it". 
"DARPA Hard"  It ain't what it use to be.

Offline blackstar

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2011, 03:45:57 pm »
How do they define "most powerful"?

N-1, Energia and Saturn V all lifted more weight, right?

Offline sferrin

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2011, 04:20:09 pm »
How do they define "most powerful"?

N-1, Energia and Saturn V all lifted more weight, right?

Not to mention the Shuttle.  (They seem to forget the Shuttle went into orbit along with it's payload every time.)
"DARPA Hard"  It ain't what it use to be.

Offline XP67_Moonbat

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2011, 04:24:33 pm »
I soundly concur!!!
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Offline bobbymike

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2011, 04:30:20 pm »
Given that there are scores (if not hundreds) of designs as powerful or more powerful than this thing that never made it to flight I'm going to have to go with "I'll believe it when I see it". 

I can be as skeptical as the next guy but I am excited by this era of entrepreneurial space development. Also Elon Musk can use his billions and won't cut his own funding. The top ten US billionaires have 30 times the worth of NASA's budget so I say go for it.
"I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death." - Leonardo da Vinci

Offline sferrin

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2011, 05:05:08 pm »
Given that there are scores (if not hundreds) of designs as powerful or more powerful than this thing that never made it to flight I'm going to have to go with "I'll believe it when I see it". 

I can be as skeptical as the next guy but I am excited by this era of entrepreneurial space development. Also Elon Musk can use his billions and won't cut his own funding. The top ten US billionaires have 30 times the worth of NASA's budget so I say go for it.

Definitely more power to them.  I'm just saying let's keep it in perspective is all.
"DARPA Hard"  It ain't what it use to be.

Offline blackstar

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2011, 05:26:21 am »
I can be as skeptical as the next guy but I am excited by this era of entrepreneurial space development. Also Elon Musk can use his billions and won't cut his own funding. The top ten US billionaires have 30 times the worth of NASA's budget so I say go for it.

Although this is exciting, it's important to keep it in perspective and to understand the limitations.  Musk cannot keep self-financing this stuff forever.  Right now he has a few investors and apparently a bunch of bank loans based upon the orders he has received.  That's probably fine for a little while.  But at some point he's going to need to raise more capital, meaning selling stocks.  Once the company goes public, they will have to start showing real returns on the money.  They will not be able to essentially run a charity to open up the final frontier.

Offline blackstar

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2011, 06:54:17 am »
How do they define "most powerful"?

N-1, Energia and Saturn V all lifted more weight, right?

Not to mention the Shuttle.  (They seem to forget the Shuttle went into orbit along with it's payload every time.)

Well, I think I get it now.  They don't mean "most powerful" ever, they mean most powerful in service (when it gets into service).  Press releases are supposed to be a little bombastic, but I've noticed that too many people swallow these press releases without question.

Offline LowObservable

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #9 on: April 09, 2011, 10:49:58 am »
I took a short tour at SpaceX a couple of years ago and was pretty impressed.

Where it differs from a lot of aerospace startups is that the vehicle technology is not the centerpiece. The Merlin is a simple as a liquid rocket can get - much more so than an RD-180. The tank and interstage structures are as efficient as they need to be, but the bigger concern is to make them robust and easy to make. So far, Musk has two basic motor designs and two tank sizes, and one GNC system.

Another big difference is that they have to perform, but not negotiate FAA certification. That's the Valley of Death for most aerospace startups.

Offline sferrin

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #10 on: April 09, 2011, 01:17:35 pm »
I can't help but wonder if anybody will ever try the Big Dumb Booster concept for real.
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Offline Nik

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #11 on: April 09, 2011, 05:37:51 pm »
I suppose they must have a sketch some-where of a super-heavy with *four* flanking boosters, in pairs...

Kudos to them for keeping quiet about it until a suitable customer emerges...

Offline blackstar

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #12 on: April 09, 2011, 06:08:21 pm »
I took a short tour at SpaceX a couple of years ago and was pretty impressed.

Where it differs from a lot of aerospace startups is that the vehicle technology is not the centerpiece. The Merlin is a simple as a liquid rocket can get

Me too.  I was there about a year ago.  It's impressive, but they are still a boutique operation.  From what I saw, they looked like they were assembling their engines and clusters by hand.  At some point they are going to have to ramp up production, and then the question is if they can adjust their processes to keep up.  I think there are other questions as well, such as the wisdom of clustering nine engines with all that piping (27 for the Heavy).  That's where their simplicity works against them.

Offline JimK

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #13 on: April 12, 2011, 10:00:01 am »
I toured the Space X facility in Hawthorne as part of the local SAE chapter two weeks ago.  What is impressive is the cultural difference between them and the aerospace industry for whom I formerly worked.  Their workforce is noticeably young, receptive to new ideas, unfazed by the "it can't be done" attitude, and willing to put in long hours. Their leadership, being businessmen, are vigorously pushing to reduce the costs of their launch vehicles:  They are looking into methods of dramatically reducing the manufacturing costs of the Merlin engine and simplifying the engine/structure interface.  They use composite components which cure without the use of expensive autoclaves.

Although the Falcon Heavy was not a central point of the tour, I should imagine that their business model has evaluated what market exists for a 117,000-pound-to-LEO capable vehicle.  The announcement that the initial launch site will be the Western Test Range at Vandenberg should indicate that it has a market for customers requiring heavy payloads to polar or sun-syncronous orbits.

There is an interesting application of cost v. capability.  If the Falcon Heavy is successful in reducing launch costs to $1000/pound, it will not be done by having engines with the highest Isp or by the applications of expensive, exotic materials, but by the previously mentioned cost-consious decisions.  While Space X's original goal of recovery and reuse of their boosters is still given lip service, if the original cost of the components can be reduced far enough, the expense of refurbishment may not be worth it.  But with 27 engines per Falcon Heavy launch, who knows?

Offline FutureSpaceTourist

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Re: SpaceX Heavy
« Reply #14 on: April 12, 2011, 01:11:38 pm »
From what I saw, they looked like they were assembling their engines and clusters by hand.  At some point they are going to have to ramp up production, and then the question is if they can adjust their processes to keep up.

SpaceX have acknowledged the ramp up and said they're actively working to go from the current tens of engines per year to several hundred! They also talked about Merlin changes being for ease of manufacturing as well as increased performance (although I've not seen any details on that).

Out of interest, who assembles their rocket engines or clusters automatically?