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.
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]