1st SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket Goes Vertical 1st Time at KSC Ahead of Early 2018 Debut Liftoff: Photos
Ken Kremer -- Space UpClose -- 28 Dec 2017MERRITT ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REGUGE/PLAYALINDA BEACH, FL- The firstever fully integrated SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket was raised vertical today, Dec. 28, forthe first time ever at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a period of critical testing ahead of the debut liftoff planned to take place as soon as mid-January 2018 – thus fulfilling a long-awaited dream of company founder and billionaire CEO Elon Musk.
The complete triple core rocket topped with the nose core that likely already houses Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster as the payload inside and destined to reach the Red Planets orbit, was erected this morning around 9:30 a.m. EST after rolling out to pad 39A utilizing the transporter erector (TE) recently upgraded especially for the mammoth vehicle.
Check out our exclusive photo gallery of incredible views of the raised SpaceX Falcon Heavy as seen from the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Playalinda Beach onthe Atlantic Ocean in Florida.
SpaceX engineers are now conducting fit checks that could last a day or more. The next step is to run through the propellent loading and hold down static test fire involving all 27 first stage Merlin 1D engines - which is a pre-launch requirement to confirm the vehicles safety, reliability and readiness.
A targeted launch date has not yet announced by SpaceX and awaits the completion of additional testing and the static fire, but is expected sometime later in January 2018 if all goes well.
The triple stick Falcon Heavy is comprised of a trio of Falcon 9 boosters - including a significantly modified central core, to deal with aerodynamic stresses, that is attached toa pair of side-mounted cores with newly developed nose cones mounted in place of payload fairings.
The two side cores are ‘flight-proven’ boosters that already launched once and are being recycled for the Heavy.
The gigantic two stage Falcon Heavy stands more than 229 feet (70 meters) tall and measures 39.9 feet wide (12.2 meters). It also features a dozen grid fins and a dozen landing legs attached to the first stage boosters in an attempt to propulsively soft land all three cores uptight and intact.
Upon its inaugural launch the mighty Falcon Heavy will take the title of world’s most powerful currently operating rocket.
Only NASA’s retired Saturn V moon rocket and Space Shuttle were more powerful American rockets soaring off the same pad.
The Falcon Heavy first stage will generate 5.1 million pounds of liftoff thrust fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants, when it blasts off from pad 39A.
“Falcon Heavy launching from same NASA pad as the Saturn V Apollo 11 moon rocket,”Musk tweeted. “It was 50% higher thrust with five F-1 engines at 7.5M lb-F. I love that rocket so much.”
For the debut Demonstration 1 mission it will blast off using about 4.7 million pounds of thrust - a bit less than full thrust according to Musk.
“Max thrust at lift-off is 5.1 million pounds or 2300 metric tons. First mission will run at 92%,” Musk explained via tweet.
The Falcon Heavy sports about 2/3 the liftoff thrust of NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket and twice the power of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy - which is currently the world’s most powerful rocket.
The 23 story tall Falcon Heavy weighs more than 3.1 million pounds (1.4 million kilograms).
Rather than a “boring” mass simulator made of steel or concrete, Musk is donating his personal cherry Red Tesla sports car as the Heavy’s payload on a far flung whimsical journey to the Red Planet that’s garnered tons of attention and will play David’s Bowie’s hit song ‘Space Oddity’.
“The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing Space Oddity, on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit,” Musk stated.
After liftoff the red Tesla will separate from the rockets second stage and be propelled towards Mars orbit and beyond on a looping heliocentric elliptic orbit around the sun.
“I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” Musk mused in another recent tweet.
Last week Musk also published the first photos of the rocket itself taken inside the huge SpaceX processing hangar at KSC pad 39A as well as the Tesla mounted on the payload adapter being encapsulated in the payload fairing - read our earlier stories.
SpaceX is developing the triple barreled Falcon Heavy with its own funds.The Heavy is derived from the single stick Falcon 9 rocket whose development was funded by NASA and which serves as SpaceX’s workhorse rocket - used by NASA, military, government and commercial customers.SpaceX will also attempt to recover all three cores post launch. The center one lands onthe OCISLY droneship at sea and the side boosters via near simultaneous soft landings back at the Cape on Landing Zone-1 and Landing Zone-2.
SpaceX engineers have soft landed and successfully recovered 20 Falcon 9 cores to date.
5 of those recovered cores have been successfully reflown – including the latest one before Christmas on Dec. 22 for the Iridium-4 commercial communications satellite launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.
Musk’s vision is to recover and refly rockets as easily as commercial airliners in order todrastically slash the high cost of launching rockets and eventually establish a ‘City on Mars.’
SpaceX launched a record breaking 18 missions altogether in 2017.
Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.