The Falcon Heavy, A new chapter in the space age?


“5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1…. “

As loud as the cheering of their employees was, it was only audible because they were nowhere close to the thunderous roar of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy as it fired up its engines. Watching the live stream of the test flight is actually quite misleading if you don’t know much about the history of the Falcon series. What looks like a quick and clean launch is the result of over half a decade of carefully engineered components and their perfectly choreographed functioning. Watching The two boosters land perfectly on their respective pads after a 60 km drop at supersonic speeds is truly awe-inspiring. Even though the 3rd core did end up crashing into the ocean, the mission itself was a spectacular success with the special payload of Elon Musk’s own Tesla now in orbit around the sun. With a few more tweaks, it’ll undoubtedly become the main heavy life rocket for commercial and government entities alike.

The Falcon Heavy stands at 70m high or 1/5th the final height of the Lotus tower in Colombo. With 27 of SpaceX’s own Merlin engines spread out over 3 cores, it’s thrust at liftoff is equivalent to around 18 Boeing 747 aircraft. It boasts an orbital payload capacity of 63.8 tons. To put that into perspective, that means the rocket can send 53 Toyota Premio cars into Low Earth Orbit(LEO), at once! The only rocket that can lift more than the Falcon Heavy is the monster Saturn V (which took man to the moon).

Of course, none of this is what makes the Falcon Heavy truly unique among rockets. What really sets SpaceX’s latest rocket apart from the others is the fact that it manages to do all that with only two stages (The Saturn V used 3) and the fact that unlike the Saturn V, the first stage which does most of the heavy lifting is fully reusable. Each of the two side boosters of the Falcon Heavy are actually Falcon 9 rocket cores. The two used for the test flight were not actually new ones but have actually flown before in 2016. This is just another example of how SpaceX plans to cut costs in getting payloads to orbit and beyond. By using modular rocket cores which can function on their own as Falcon 9s or together for the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX is able to be flexible in how it handles its launch contracts.

Side boosters landing after stage separation


Even though it’s first payloads will undoubtedly be commercial or military satellites, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been quite clear that he plans to use the system as a stepping stone on his final goal of colonizing Mars. In fact, the Falcon Heavy might only be a way for SpaceX to get the revenue needed for their BFR project. The BFR which is planned to have a carrying capacity of 150 tons will not only be the system that ferries the components and personnel of the moonbase onto the lunar surface but might also be the rocket that finally makes humanity an interplanetary species. Of course, all new ventures do eventually have to deal with competition and even spaceflight is no exception to that. And with people like Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) and Paul Allen (Co-founder of Microsoft) trying to stake a claim in the same business, we can be sure that no matter what happens, it’s going to be an eventful time for the aerospace industry.



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