SpaceX has successfully launched its first Falcon Heavy booster, which is considered to be the world’s most powerful rocket in operation today. The heavy-lift rockets are used for launching huge satellites and spacecraft off Earth into orbit. The rocket was launched from the same Florida pad used by NASA’s Apollo missions.
SpaceX spent nearly $500 million over seven years to develop the Falcon Heavy. The rocket can carry twice as much payload as its closest competitor at a lower cost. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy can launch up to 64 metric tons of payload into orbit for $90 million a launch. Its competitor, the Delta IV Heavy, can launch 29 metric tons at a cost of between $300 million and $500 million per flight.
The lift capacity allows SpaceX to launch heavier satellites into low Earth orbit or reach higher geostationary orbits. There are two more Falcon Heavy missions expected to fly in 2018. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told reporters that the next Falcon Heavy could launch within three to six months.
SpaceX says that the three first-stage boosters on the Falcon Heavy are designed to be reusable. The boosters will be certified to launch heavy satellites on national security missions for the U.S. military. Musk said, “It can launch things right to Pluto and beyond, no stop needed.” Right now, the Falcon Heavy is taking Musk’s Tesla Roadster, along with a mannequin named Starman, on a deep-space ride toward the asteroid belt.
The company is also planning on launching astronauts on its crewed Dragon spacecraft this year. Musk said, “We’re aspiring to fly crews to orbit at the end of this year. I think the hardware will be ready.” The spacesuit worn by Starman on the Falcon Heavy flight is the same one astronauts will wear on Dragon.
SpaceX is also preparing its Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) for potential tests in 2019. The BFR features a massive spaceship with a 100-passenger load limit on top of a booster powered by 31 SpaceX Raptor engines. The combined rocket and spaceship will be able to launch 136 metric tons low Earth orbit.
It’s likely that the testing of the BFR will occur at the newest SpaceX launch site in south Texas, near Brownsville. Musk said, “It will most likely be at our Brownsville location because we’ve got a lot of land if it blows up.”