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Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Falcon Heavy: The Most Powerful Rocket Since the Apollo Moonshots (Video)

As reported by The Register: SpaceX has released a video animation of its Falcon Heavy, the mega-rocket of "scale and capability unequalled by any other currently flying".

Falcon Heavy is still to make its maiden voyage, but when it does the lift off thrust will total nearly four million pounds, equal to fifteen Boeing 747 jet liners at full power, said SpaceX.

The intention is to create a rocket that can lift large amounts of cargo into space at low cost.
In the video, all boosters return safely to Earth. Each of Falcon Heavy’s boosters is equivalent to the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket.

Earlier this month SpaceX failed to land its Falcon 9 rocket on a floating hovership in the Atlantic Ocean.

Once SpaceX is able to land the rockets, the potential costs of Falcon Heavy will be even cheaper.

The Falcon Heavy was originally scheduled for its first test flight in late 2013 or 2014. SpaceX intends to launch the mega-rockets later this year.

Nine SpaceX Merlin 1D engines sit at the bottom of each of the craft's three cores, or boosters. The engines are identical to those on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

Falcon Heavy's first stage consists of three cores. All three cores operate together at liftoff. About T+2:45 minutes into flight, the center core throttles down while the two side cores continue at full thrust until their fuel is nearly spent. At that point, pneumatic separators release the side cores, which plummet into the ocean, and the center core throttles up.

For payloads heavier than 100,000 pounds, Falcon Heavy uses a cross-feed system to run fuel from the side cores to the center core, leaving the center core almost fully fueled after the side boosters separate. What's left is the equivalent of a complete Falcon 9 rocket already high in space.

A liquid-oxygen tank at the top of each core feeds the engines through a center tube; the lower portion of the tank contains rocket-grade kerosene. The propellants are turbo-pumped into each Merlin engine's injector, where they are mixed and fed into the combustion chamber.

Powered by a single Merlin 1D engine modified to operate in the vacuum of space, the second stage delivers the final push that gets the payload into orbit. The engine can shut down and reignite as needed, enabling Falcon Heavy to deliver multiple payloads to different orbits.

Falcon Heavy can carry either a Dragon capsule—SpaceX's free-flying spacecraft, currently used to resupply the International Space Station—or up to 117,000 pounds of payload (think multiple military and commercial satellites) enclosed in a shell 45 feet long and 17 feet in diameter. The fairing consists of two clamshell-style halves made of an aluminum honeycomb core and carbon-fiber face sheets. When the second stage nears the desired orbit, pneumatic pushers split the halves apart, exposing the payload.

A single Merlin 1D generates 147,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, burning rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen fed by a turbo-pump into the combustion chamber. Falcon Heavy's liquid propellant has an advantage over solid fuel: Liquid-fueled engines can stop and restart in flight, whereas solid-fuel engines burn until they are spent. Through proprietary adjustments that SpaceX won't disclose, engineers recently lightened the engine to increase its efficiency, making it the most efficient rocket booster engine ever built.