SpaceX is planning test launch of their new Falcon Heavy rocket. Previous flight on 28th June in 2015 was interrupted by explosion after 2 minutes 19 seconds after start.
On growing space service market competition and customers are demanding. In spite of medium weight rockets (where SpaceX with Falcon-9 1.2V has strong position), customers need rockets with the potential lifting of larger loads or those with non-standard dimensions. Good example is ULA with their Delta IV Heavy. As far as other Delta versions are going to be phase out to 2018, Delta Heavy (in spite of little commercial success) is going strong. ULA has still contracts for NRO mission launches, when payloads (for example Orion satellites) are heavy and with unusual dimensions. SpaceX sees potential in government contracts on heavy rockets and developing their heavy Falcon version. Since 2011, when SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that:
“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.”
Company’s direction was clearly stated. SpaceX is apparently going to catch up and overtake ULA participation in government contracts and is thinking seriously about future participation in manned flights. Dragon spacecraft (currently being tested as a manned ship) and its development versions combined with Falcon Heavy make the SpaceX formidable competitor against ULA and Orbital Sciences. Both competitors are not in possession of such modern and comprehensive solution for future manned space flights.
Falcon Heavy is based on Falcon-9 1.1V. Conception of utilizing two identical cores as a boosters is similar to Delta IV Heavy (generally conception of unification and cost reducing is characteristically for Falcon Heavy). In case of Falcon Heavy, boosters and first stage are planned to be reusable. After launch, boosters and central core are utilizing full thrust. Fuel for central core is pumped from left and right core’s tanks. After first phase of flight, when tanks of left and right core become empty, both boosters will separate from central core. In this moment, only central engines in each booster are still working to let rocket reach safety distance. After separation, cores are deploying long grid fins and land on Earth still utilizing central engine. At the same time, central core (first stage of the rocket) is utilizing fuel from its tanks, due the fact of previous crossfeed from booster’s tanks. When first stage tanks are empty, stages will separeate. First stage is landing with central engine working on deployed grid fins. Second stage is starting engine and continuing flight. Second stage construction is similar to first stage (for cost reducing and making manufacturing process simpler). It has shorter tank und utilize one engine converted to vacuum, instead nine in first stage. Significant for Falcon construction are Merlin-1D engines. It is SpaceX in-house product, designed in 2011 as a fourth version of Merlin-1. Comparing to previous versions it has improved thrust force from 411 kN (vacuum) in C version to 801 kN for D version. Also D version has number of parts reduced (cost reducing) and improved reliability. Planned weight of Falcon Heavy is at 1,462,836 kg with height at 68.4 m. Payload for GTO launches is planned for 21200 kg. Comparing to Delta IV Heavy (14220 kg) it is about 67% more. Atlas V in 551 configuration (5 m payload fairing, 5 boosters and one engine in Centaur stage) offers only 8900 kg for GTO. Falcon Heavy will provide enough payload space for every, even most weird cargo task. Combined with manned version of Dragon probably will serve well in human missions, and in future maybe it will be part of human mission to Mars. As Elon Musk clearly stated:
“The key thing for me, is to develop the technology to transport large numbers of people and cargo to Mars. That’s the ultimate awesome thing.”
As we can see, Falcon Heavy with Dragon spacecraft fits well in SpaceX philosophy – designing with potential for tomorrow.