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SpaceX Unveils World’s Largest Rocket

April 5, 2011

On Tuesday, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) unveiled the dramatic final specifications and launch date for 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,” SpaceX CEO and chief rocket designer Elon 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 said that the Falcon Heavy will have the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft weighing over 117,000 pounds to orbit.  The rocket will have over twice the performance of the Space Shuttle or Delta IV Heavy.

SpaceX said the Falcon Heavy is capable of delivering the equivalent of an entire airline flight full of passengers, crew, luggage and fuel all the way to orbit.

The rocket’s first stage will be made up of three nine-engine cores and SpaceX’s upgraded Merlin engines currently being tested at the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas will power it. 

Falcon Heavy will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.  This power is equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747s taking off at the same time.

The rocket also meets NASA human rating standards, unlike other satellite launch vehicles.  According to SpaceX, this means that designing the higher structural safety margins of 40 percent above flight loads, rather than the 25 percent 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, which will leave the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate. 

SpaceX said that the Falcon Heavy sets a new world record in affordable spaceflight at about $1,000 per pound to orbit.

The rocket is 227-feet in length and 38-feet in width.

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