Falcon Heavy

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced the final specifications for its Falcon Heavy rocket:

  • Mass to LEO (200 km, 28.5 deg): 53,000 kg (117,000 lb)
  • Overall Length: 69.2 m (227 ft)
  • Width (body): 3.6 m (12 ft) x 11.6 m (38 ft)
  • Width (fairing): 5.2 m (17 ft)
  • Mass on liftoff: 1,400,000 kg (3,100,000 lb)
  • Thrust on liftoff: 17 MN (3,800,000 lbf)

Falcon Heavy
Space X Falcon Heavy
Image Credit: Space X

Space X expects to launch its first Falcon Heavy by the end of 2012. This is 4 years before Congress has mandated NASA to deliver a new heavy lift rocket (2016), which NASA has indicated it is unable to do within the budget that Congress has granted. The politicians have violated the cardinal rule of project management: you have three variables – cost, time and quality. You are allowed to specify two and the project manager will tell you what the third one is.

Elon Musk has indicated that two Falcon Heavy rockets would be sufficient to mount a substantive Moon mission.

Even one Falcon Heavy could do so if the crew was small.

One might speculate about the size of the mission if propellant depots were available to refuel an empty spacecraft weighing 50,000 kg. The final all up weight of a fully fueled space craft could be in the neighborhood of 400,000 kg. That is far more than is needed for any mission beyond Earth orbit that is currently imagined, save for a full blown expedition to Mars.

This was the vision Werner Von Braun had for refueling in space, before America was sidetracked by the need to land a man on the Moon before the decade was out. He did not have the time to develop the refueling technology.

Rockets as big as the Saturn V and the (hopefully) canceled Ares V are not needed for manned exploration of the Solar System.

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