Falcon Heavy

Falcon Heavy
Falcon Heavy cropped.jpg
Falcon Heavy on pad LC-39A, being prepared for its first launch
FunctionOrbital heavy-lift launch vehicle
Country of originUnited States
Cost per launch
  • Reusable: $90M[1]
  • Expendable: $150M[2]
Height70 m (230 ft)[3]
Diameter3.66 m (12.0 ft)[3]
Width12.2 m (40 ft)[3]
Mass1,420,788 kg (3,132,301 lb)[3]
Payload to LEO (28.5°)63,800 kg (140,700 lb)[3]
Payload to GTO (27°)26,700 kg (58,900 lb)[3]
Payload to Mars16,800 kg (37,000 lb)[3]
Payload to Pluto3,500 kg (7,700 lb)[3]
Associated rockets
FamilyFalcon 9
Launch history
Launch sites
Total launches1
Landings2 / 3 attempts
First flightFebruary 6, 2018[4]
No. boosters2
Engines9 Merlin 1D per booster
ThrustSea level: 7.6 MN (1,700,000 lbf) (each)
Vacuum: 8.2 MN (1,800,000 lbf) (each)
Total thrustSea level: 15.2 MN (3,400,000 lbf)
Vacuum: 16.4 MN (3,700,000 lbf)
Specific impulseSea level: 282 seconds[5]
Vacuum: 311 seconds[6]
Burn time154 seconds
FuelSubcooled LOX / Chilled RP-1[7]
First stage
Engines9 Merlin 1D
ThrustSea level: 7.6 MN (1,700,000 lbf)
Vacuum: 8.2 MN (1,800,000 lbf)
Specific impulseSea level: 282 seconds
Vacuum: 311 seconds
Burn time187 seconds
FuelSubcooled LOX / Chilled RP-1
Second stage
Engines1 Merlin 1D Vacuum
Thrust934 kN (210,000 lbf)[3]
Specific impulse348 seconds[3]
Burn time397 seconds[3]
FuelLOX / RP-1

Falcon Heavy is a partially reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle designed and manufactured by SpaceX. It is derived from the Falcon 9 vehicle and consists of a strengthened Falcon 9 first stage as a central core with two additional first stages as strap-on boosters.[8] Falcon Heavy has the highest payload capacity of any currently operational launch vehicle, and the fourth-highest capacity of any rocket ever built, trailing the American Saturn V and the Soviet Energia and N1.

SpaceX conducted Falcon Heavy's maiden launch on February 6, 2018, at 3:45 p.m. EST (20:45 UTC).[4] The rocket carried a Tesla Roadster belonging to SpaceX founder Elon Musk, as a dummy payload.[9] The next Falcon Heavy launch is scheduled for March 2019.[10]

Falcon Heavy was designed to carry humans into space beyond low Earth orbit, although as of February 2018 Musk does not plan to apply for a human-rating certification to carry NASA astronauts.[11] Falcon Heavy and other current Falcon launch vehicles are poised to be replaced by the BFR ("Big Falcon Rocket") by the early 2020s.[12]


SpaceX breaking ground at Vandenberg AFB SLC-4E in June 2011 for the Falcon Heavy launch pad

Concepts for a Falcon Heavy launch vehicle were initially discussed as early as 2004. SpaceX unveiled the plan for the Falcon Heavy to the public at a Washington DC news conference in April 2011, with initial test flight expected in 2013.[13]

A number of factors delayed the planned maiden flight by 5 years to 2018, including two anomalies with Falcon 9 launch vehicles, which required all engineering resources to be dedicated to failure analysis, halting flight operations for many months. The integration and structural challenges of combining three Falcon 9 cores were much more difficult than expected.[14]

In July 2017, Elon Musk said, "It actually ended up being way harder to do Falcon Heavy than we thought. ... Really way, way more difficult than we originally thought. We were pretty naive about that."[15]

The initial test flight for a Falcon Heavy lifted off on February 6, 2018, at 3:45 pm EST, carrying its dummy payload, Musk's personal Tesla Roadster, beyond Mars orbit.[4]

Conception and funding

Musk mentioned Falcon Heavy in a September 2005 news update, referring to a customer request from 18 months prior.[16] Various solutions using the planned Falcon 5 had been explored, but the only cost-effective, reliable iteration was one that used a 9-engine first stage – the Falcon 9. The Falcon Heavy was developed with private capital with Musk stating that the cost was more than $500 million. No government financing was provided for its development.[17]

Design and development

Conceptual rendering of Falcon Heavy at Pad 39A, Cape Canaveral

The Falcon Heavy design is based on Falcon 9's fuselage and engines.

By 2008, SpaceX had been aiming for the first launch of Falcon 9 in 2009, while "Falcon 9 Heavy would be in a couple of years". Speaking at the 2008 Mars Society Conference, Musk also indicated that he expected a hydrogen-fueled upper stage would follow 2–3 years later (which would have been around 2013).[18]

By April 2011, the capabilities and performance of the Falcon 9 vehicle were better understood, SpaceX having completed two successful demonstration missions to LEO, one of which included reignition of the second-stage engine. At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. on April 5, 2011, Musk stated that Falcon Heavy would "carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V Moon rocket ... and Soviet Energia rocket".[19] In the same year, with the expected increase in demand for both variants, SpaceX announced plans to expand manufacturing capacity "as we build towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks".[19]

In 2015, SpaceX announced a number of changes to the Falcon Heavy rocket, worked in parallel to the upgrade of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle.[20] In December 2016, SpaceX released a photo showing the Falcon Heavy interstage at the company headquarters in Hawthorne, California.[21]


By May 2013, a new, partly underground test stand was being built at the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas, specifically to test the triple cores and twenty-seven rocket engines of the Falcon Heavy.[22] By May 2017, SpaceX conducted the first static fire test of flight-design Falcon Heavy center core at the McGregor facility.[23][24]

In July 2017, Musk discussed publicly the challenges of testing a complex launch vehicle like the three-core Falcon Heavy, indicating that a large extent of the new design "is really impossible to test on the ground" and could not be effectively tested independent of actual flight tests.[15]

By September 2017, all three first stage cores had completed their static fire tests on the ground test stand.[25] The first Falcon Heavy static fire test was conducted on January 24, 2018.[26]

Maiden flight

In April 2011, Musk was planning for a first launch of Falcon Heavy from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the West Coast in 2013.[19][27] SpaceX refurbished Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg AFB to accommodate Falcon 9 and Heavy. The first launch from the Cape Canaveral East Coast launch complex was planned for late 2013 or 2014.[28]

Due partly to the failure of SpaceX CRS-7 in June 2015, SpaceX rescheduled the maiden Falcon Heavy flight in September 2015 to occur no earlier than April 2016,[29] but by February 2016 had postponed it again to late 2016. The flight was to be launched from the refurbished Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.[30][31]

In August 2016, the demonstration flight was moved to early 2017,[32] then to summer 2017,[33] to late 2017[34] and was launched in February 2018.[35]

A second flight is scheduled for January 2019,[36] launching Arabsat-6A. The STP-2 (DoD Space Test Program) payload is scheduled to be launched in March 2019.[37] The payload is composed of 25 small spacecraft.[38] Operational GTO missions for Intelsat and Inmarsat, which were planned for late 2017, were moved to the Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket version as it had become powerful enough to lift those heavy payloads in its expendable configuration.[39][40] The first commercial GTO mission is also scheduled in December 2018 or January 2019 for Arabsat.[41]

At a July 2017 meeting of the International Space Station Research and Development meeting in Washington, D.C., Musk downplayed expectations for the success of the maiden flight:

There's a real good chance the vehicle won't make it to orbit ... I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest.[15]

Musk went on to say the integration and structural challenges of combining three Falcon 9 cores were much more difficult than expected.[14][15] The plan was for all three cores to land back on Earth after launch.[42]

In December 2017, Musk tweeted that the dummy payload on the maiden Falcon Heavy launch would be his personal Tesla Roadster playing David Bowie's "Life on Mars", and that it would be launched into an orbit around the Sun that will reach the orbit of Mars.[42][43] He released pictures in the following days.[44] The car had three cameras attached to provide "epic views".[9]

Falcon Heavy a few seconds after liftoff

On December 28, 2017, the Falcon Heavy was moved to the launch pad in preparation of a static fire test of all 27 engines, which was expected on January 19, 2018.[45] However, due to the U.S. government shutdown that began on January 20, the testing and launch were further delayed.[46]

The static fire test was conducted on January 24, 2018.[26][47] Musk confirmed via Twitter that the test "was good" and later announced the rocket would be launched on February 6.[48]

On February 6, 2018, after a delay of over two hours due to high winds,[49] Falcon Heavy lifted off at 3:45pm EST.[4] Its side boosters landed safely on Landing Zones 1 and 2 a few minutes later.[50] However, only one of the three engines on the center booster that were intended to restart ignited during its descent, causing it to hit the water next to the droneship at a speed of over 480 km/h (300 mph).[51][52]

Initially Elon Musk tweeted that the Roadster had overshot its planned heliocentric orbit, and would reach the asteroid belt. In fact, observations by telescopes showed that the Roadster would only slightly exceed the orbit of Mars at aphelion.[53]

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