The New Falcon Heavy Rocket Can Take Us Back To The Moon

It's so powerful that it could set a next-generation mission to the moon. That's what SpaceX's Elon Musk said today about his new rocket, the Falcon Heavy. In fact, it's going to be the most powerful rocket in history this side of a Saturn V.

The Saturn V doubled the Falcon Heavy's payload capacity, which is 53 metric tons to Low Earth Orbit. By comparison, the Space Shuttle can only take 24,400 kilograms and the Delta IV Heavy, the most powerful rocket now launching from Cape Canaveral, can take only 22,980kg, less than half than SpaceX's vehicle. Musk believes that the Falcon Heavy - which is designed to meet NASA human transport standards - could serve as a platform for a moon mission. I also can imagine two of these rockets putting all the needed pieces in orbit - a command/service module and a lunar module - ready to follow on Apollo's adventure.

27 engines

The Falcon Heavy is powered by three cores, each with nine upgraded Merlin engines. 27 rockets that produce a combined 1.7 million kilograms of thrust. This is equivalent to 15 Boeing 747 put together at full throttle.

Each engine is encapsulated in a protective shell, designed to isolate the the rest of the engines from a malfunction. If one of the engines breaks in a bad way, it automatically gets shutdown, leaving the rest of the 26 engines to carry the mission, burning for a longer time. [SpaceX]

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    so... 50 years after the Saturn V was developed, the next best thing available has *half* the lifting capacity?
    Probably, the Falcon is more efficient. Probably, it's also a lot safer. But if I were going to crow about my new machine, I wouldn't be saying "it's about half as good as a 50 year old predecessor". I'd be saying (if it's true, of course) "it'll get us to the moon and back at half the cost" or "the technology is scalable to easily provide a flexible load capacity".

    The Soviet Energia could carry 100 tonnes to LEO and was launched twice in 1987 and 1988:

    It successfully launched the unmanned space shuttle Buran (weighing 80 tonnes), which orbited for 3 hours then autonomously landed on a runway - a feat not equalled by the US until the recent X-37 landing.

    This is not correct. It is a long way from being "the most powerful rocket in history this side of a Saturn V".

    The Shuttle system has a total thrust of 8.35 million lbs (3.78 million Kg)from the boosters and the Shuttle engines.
    The total weight that was sent into orbit was 110 tonnes, including the Shuttle itself.

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