SpaceX's Biggest Rocket Ever Has a New Date for its First Launch

This will be a test launch of the rocket which will carry a Tesla Roadster vehicle whose destination is Mars' orbit.

Multiple commercial satellite customers have already booked flights on Falcon Heavy, and the U.S. Air Force will launch Space Test Program 2 (STP-2), a collection of experimental satellites, on SpaceX's new rocket as well.

When Musk released his plans for Falcon Heavy in April 2011, he thought it would be relatively easy to build a Falcon Heavy by strapping together three such boosters, also called cores. These numbers would make Falcon Heavy capable of carrying twice as much mass into orbit as its closest competitor, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, which can cost as much as $400 million per launch.

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Falcon 9 is powered by nine cone-shaped engines attached to a reusable booster. It also has three times more engines. Musk's Saturday tweet is clear enough about February 6 being the "aim", but any number of factors could delay that plan.

The era of heavy load (and slightly contaminated) space haulage has finally arrived.

And, compared to rockets that better rival the Falcon Heavy's power, it's a bargain. The Falcon Heavy will use 27.

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It is reasonable to assume that the first successful flights of Falcon 9 Block 5 and first several manufactured cores will be followed only months later by a phase change towards reusability. Educated estimates place the number of reused launches at around five between February and April 2018, six if Falcon Heavy is included (both side boosters are flight-proven). It is likely that the main goal of Falcon Heavy's extended static fire was to ensure that SpaceX had developed a safe and functional method of igniting all 27 engines without damaging itself, a real risk from the torque of each engine's turbopump operating in the same orientation. Instead, people are flocking to Florida's Space Coast for the launch (so much so that NASA sold out $195 dollar tickets to a viewing party for the launch with a champagne toast and commemorative glasses) in large part to see what will occur after liftoff: SpaceX will attempt to land all three cores of the enormous rocket's first stage, with two touching down nearly simultaneously on ground-based landing pads, and the center core descending shortly after to land on an autonomous drone ship at sea. But if there are delays beyond that, all bets are off - the federal government is now funded through February 8, and a government shutdown could stall the launch, since the US Air Force must oversee rocket launches from Cape Canaveral.

SpaceX is taking its sweet time preparing for launch.

SpaceX will test-fire the rocket's 27 engines at the pad Monday.

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Musk chimed in a few days later to confirm the tentative date of the rocket's maiden flight: "Aiming for first flight of Falcon Heavy on Feb 6 from Apollo launchpad 39A at Cape Kennedy".

  • Ryan Wade