SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the specs of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy at a press conference in Washington today. You can watch a recording of his presentation and Q&A session by linking through from the Falcon Heavy page on the SpaceX website:
“This is a rocket of truly huge scale,” said Musk. Ganging together three nine-engine cores, one of which powers the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy will be able to lift some 117,000 pounds to low Earth orbit, said Musk.
“The hundred 117,000 pounds is more than a fully loaded Boeing 737 with 136 passengers, luggage, and fuel, in orbit. So that is really humungous. It’s more payload capability than any vehicle in history apart from the Saturn 5. And so it opens up a range of possibilities for government and commercial customers that simply aren’t present with the current lifting capacity.”
That’s a little less than half the payload to LEO capacity as the Saturn V, so far the most powerful operational rocket in history, which took three men to the moon in a single shot as part of the Apollo program.
Musk said the Heavy could possibly do an Apollo-style moon mission with two launches, one for the crew vehicle, and one for the lunar lander. Double those launches, and it might be possible to do a human mission to Mars, he indicated.
“This is something America can be really proud of, fact that there’s actually going to be vehicle with more than twice the capacity of the space shuttle that’s going to be ready to launch at the end of next year.”
The vehicle will also offer more than twice the payload capacity as its nearest competitor, the Delta IV Heavy, and a third the cost, said Musk. Musk said the Falcon 9 Heavy will be able to deliver a pound to orbit for $1,000, far less than the Shuttle, which retires this year anyway.
One of the keys to creating a truly spacefaring civilization is making space launches much more affordable. If successful the Falcon Heavy will do that not just by providing a cheaper alternative what’s already on the market, but by forcing its competitors to lower their prices as well.