• The triple barreled SpaceX Falcon Heavy features 27 first stage engines seen in this photo from inside the firms processing hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Launch from pad 39A is slated for early 2018. Credit:SpaceX
  • SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket poised for launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Floridain this artists concept. Credit: SpaceX
  • An artist’s illustration of the Falcon Heavy rocket on pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: SpaceX
  • The triple barreled SpaceX Falcon Heavy, once operational, will be the most powerful rocket in the world. Credit: SpaceX
  • SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discusses Falcon Heavy and rocketry during media briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
  • ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket delivers NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Elon Musk Releases First Falcon Heavy Photos Ahead of Maiden Launch in Early 2018

Ken Kremer -- Space UpClose -- 19 Dec 2017

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX, has just released the first photos of his colossal Falcon Heavy rocket unveiling a stunning view of the tripled barreled rocket integrated for the first time ahead of its long awaited maiden launch now slated for early 2018.

The spectacular photos show the powerful two stage heavy lift rocket featuring 27 first stage engines resting horizontally inside the firms huge processing hanger minus the payload, located just outside the perimeter fence at Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – thus indicating the debut launch appears at last to be in sight.

“Falcon Heavy at the Cape,” Musk tweeted Monday morning Dec. 20, along with three photos showing the rockets first and second stages from the rear along with all 27 first stage engines mounted as well as images from the top of the hangar amounting to side views.

The payload - Musk’s midnight cherry Tesla Roadster- encapsulated in the nose cone isnot yet mounted on top.

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. Only NASA’s retired Saturn V moon rocket and Space Shuttle were more powerful American rockets soaring off the same pad.

The inaugural launch of the massive Falcon Heavy on its first demonstration mission could take place from Launch Complex-39A as soon as January, both Musk and SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell have stated recently.

"Falcon Heavy to launch next month from Apollo 11 pad at the Cape. Will have double thrust of next largest rocket,” Musk tweeted in early December.

The extremely complicated and extremely powerful Falcon Heavy rocket is comprised ofthree Falcon 9 first stage booster cores strapped together and is powered by a total of 27 first stage Merlin 1D engines.

Each individual Falcon 9 first stage core is powered by nine Merlin 1D engines arrangedin the now familiar and standard octobweb configuration.

The Falcon Heavy will become the world’s most powerful rocket whenever it launches – with twice the power of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy which is currently theworld’s most powerful rocket.

By comparison it will have about 2/3 the liftoff thrust of NASA’s Saturn V moon landing rocket which propelled all of NASA’s manned lunar landing missions including Apollo 11 – when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on another world way back in July 1969. The Saturn V rocket and moon landing accomplishment are dear to Musk’s heart.

“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.”

And the launch is certain to be a crowd pleaser for all space enthusiasts.

“Guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another."

SpaceX was hoping to launch the Falcon Heavy before the end of 2017.

However the enormity of the task and preparatory work combined with the demands of a record breaking launch pace of 17 liftoffs so far in 2017 – for paying customers waitingin long lines as opposed to a test launch - forced a delay into early 2018.

Musk originally proposed the Falcon Heavy in 2011 and targeted a maiden mission in 2013.

Now after years of painstaking development and delays the debut demonstration launchis finally realistically at hand.

However, a key requirement prior to launching is that SpaceX engineers must also conduct a static fire test of all 27 first stage engines during a hold down test at pad 39 with the raised rocket fully fueled– the first time that will have been done in unison.

SpaceX still hopes to conduct theFalcon Heavystatic fire test before the end of this year in late December.

They typically run from 3 to 7 seconds to ensure all rocket systems are safe, reliable and ready for liftoff and amount to a wet countdown demonstration test.

“We wanted to fly Heavy this year. We should be able to static fire this year and fly a couple of weeks right after that,” recently said Shotwell in comments to AWST and reconfirmed by Space UpClose.

The gigantic Falcon Heavy stands more than 229.6 feet (70 meters) tall and is 39.9 feet wide (12.2 meters).

It weighs more than 3.1 million pounds (1.4 million kilograms).

Like the Falcon 9 it will be fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene propellants.

SpaceX is developing the triple barreled Falcon Heavy with its own funds.

The Heavy is derived from the single stick Falcon 9 rocket funded by NASA which serves as SpaceX’s workhorse rocket - used for NASA, military, government and commercial customers.

The triple stick Falcon Heavy is composed of a trio of Falcon 9 boosters including a significantly modified central core to deal with aerodynamic stresses attached to a pair of side-mounted cores with newly developed nose cones mounted in place of payload fairings.

SpaceX will also attempt to recover all three cores post launch. The center one lands ona dronship at sea and the side boosters via soft landings back at the Cape.

They have soft landed and successfully recovered 20 cores to date.

Recently Musk published a one minute long draft animation illustrating the Falcon Heavy triple booster launch and how the individual landings of the trio of first stage booster cores will take place – nearly simultaneously. A November 2017 launch was planned at that time.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Instagram

First draft animation of the Falcon Heavy three core launch. FH is twice the thrust of the next largest rocket currently flying and ~2/3 thrust of the Saturn V moon rocket. Lot that can go wrong in the November launch ...

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

“First draft animation of the Falcon Heavy three core launch. FH is twice the thrust of the next largest rocket currently flying and ~2/3 thrust of the Saturn V moon rocket. Lot that can go wrong in the November launch ...”

Video Caption: SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch from KSC pad 39A pad and first stage booster landings. Credit: SpaceX

“Side booster rockets return to Cape Canaveral,” explains Musk on twitter. “Center lands on droneship.”

The two side boosters will be recycled from prior Falcon 9 launches and make precisionguided propulsive, upright ground soft landings back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Each booster is outfitted with a quartet of grid fins and landing legs. The center core is newly built and heavily modified.

“Sides run high thrust, center is lower thrust until sides separate & fly back. Center then throttles up, keeps burning & lands on droneship. If we’re lucky!” Musk elaborated.

The center booster will touch down on an ocean going droneship prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off of Florida’s east coast.

The thunder, power and roar of over 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust from the Falcon Heavy’s 27 engines is absolutely certain to be a thrilling, earth-shaking space spectacular !! Thus placing it in a class of its own unlike any US launch since NASA’s Saturn V and Space Shuttles rocketed to the high frontier from the same pad.

“I encourage people to come down to the Cape to see the first Falcon Heavy mission,” Musk said. “It’s guaranteed to be exciting.”

However the launch of the extremely complicated Falcon Heavy booster igniting 27 first stage Merlin 1D engines also comes associated with a huge risk.

Musk says hopes that it at least rises far enough off the ground to minimize the chancesof damage to the historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

“There’s a lot of risk associated with Falcon Heavy, a real good chance that that vehicle does not make it to orbit,” Musk said recently while speaking at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, D.C. on July 19.

Read our continuing Soyuz, SpaceX Dragon CRS-13 and Orbital ATK Cygnus crew andcargo flight stories here at Space UpClose for further details about ISS mission operations and ongoing science investigations.

Musk says the payload will be his Tesla Roadster – sources confirm to me . The Roadster will be loaded into the payload fairing and hurled to Mars orbit post launch "if it doesn’t blow up on ascent."

More in our next Space UpClose storyStay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.