Falcon Heavy illustration

What is Falcon Heavy?

Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by the latter part of 2015. Able to lift 54 metric tons, FH would lift more than twice the payload of the Delta IV Heavy, the next closest operational vehicle. Yet despite its heavier capacity, it would do so at one-third the cost of Delta IV Heavy.

Designed as a variant of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle, Falcon Heavy generates nearly 4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. Along with the new possibilities paved by its increased capacity is a renewal of an old one — to send crew as far as Mars.

The FH is categorized under the “super heavy-lift” range of launch systems according to a NASA human spaceflight review panel. Once launched, it would be able to deliver more usable payload to orbit than any launch vehicle since the Saturn V (1967–1973). Theoretically speaking, the Soviet Energia rocket (that launched twice between 1987 and 1988) could send more payload to orbit than the Falcon Heavy, but Energia, although it function, failed to deliver the payload to complete orbital insertion.

The FH is composed of a standard Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as liquid strap-on boosters. It will be able to deliver payload of 53, 000 kilograms to low earth orbit. Compared to other rockets, FH’s structural safety margins are 40% above flight loads where as other rockets have 25%.

Its first stage is powered by three Falcon 9 derived cores. With its unique propellant crossfeed capability, side cores supply fuel and oxider to the center core until the side cores are nearly empty and ready for their first separation event. Thus, this has enabled the cores to ignite simultaneously and operate at a better quality. Each core will have four extensible landing legs.

Furthermore, a single Merlin 1D engine modified for vacuum operation, with an expansion ratio of 117:1 and a nominal burn time of 345 seconds, powers the second stage.

Is it reusable?

Originally, a reusable rocket launching system is not included in the Falcon Heavy design. However, space  is developing the system as an extensible to the Falcon Heavy that be used in both stages.

In 2011, SpaceX reported that a funded development program would design a system that would return the first stage back to the launch site and the second one back to the launch pad.

Will there be revisions?

Like all SpaceX products, they undergo different processes of revision to result to the perfect fit. In 2015, SpaceX said that there would be a number of changes to the FH, as well as parallel design changes to Falcon V1.1. As of March 2015, SpaceX still hasn’t identified the “new Falcon 9”.

The two side cores will have the same core as the “new Falcon 9”. On the other hand, the center core will retain the original Falcon 9 v1.1 dimensions and structure.

Are there already scheduled flights yet?

In 2012, Space X had its first commercial contract for a Falcon Heavy Flight with the Intelstat. According to the contract, SpaceX would be delivering satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit, but no date has been fixed yet.