Falcon Heavy

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Falcon Heavy
Pad 39 A Falcon Heavy Artist Cropped.jpg
Artist's representation of Falcon Heavy Reusable on launchpad
Function Orbital super heavy-lift launch vehicle
Manufacturer SpaceX
Country of origin United States
Cost per launch $90M for up to 8,000 kg to GTO[1]
Height 70 m (230 ft)[2]
Diameter 3.66 m (12.0 ft)[2]
Width 12.2 m (40 ft)[2]
Mass 1,420,788 kg (3,132,301 lb)[2]
Stages 2+
Payload to LEO (28.5°) 63,800 kg (140,700 lb)[2]
Payload to GTO (27°) 26,700 kg (58,900 lb)[2]
Payload to Mars 16,800 kg (37,000 lb)[2]
Payload to Pluto 3,500 kg (7,700 lb)[2]
Associated rockets
Family Falcon 9
Comparable Delta IV Heavy, Angara A5V, Saturn C-3
Launch history
Status In development
Launch sites
Total launches 0
Successes 0
Failures 0
First flight Summer 2017 (planned)[3]
No. boosters 2
Engines 9 Merlin 1D
Thrust Sea level: 7,607 kN (1,710,000 lbf)
Vacuum: 8,227 kN (1,850,000 lbf)
Specific impulse Sea level: 282 seconds[4]
Vacuum: 311 seconds[5]
Burn time 162 seconds[6]
Fuel Subcooled LOX / Chilled RP-1[7]
First stage
Engines 27 Merlin 1D (two boosters plus single core)
Thrust (boosters plus core)
Sea level: 22,819 kN (5,130,000 lbf)
Vacuum: 24,681 kN (5,549,000 lbf)[2]
Specific impulse Sea level: 282 seconds
Vacuum: 311 seconds
Burn time 162 seconds
Fuel Subcooled LOX / Chilled RP-1
Second stage
Engines 1 Merlin 1D Vacuum
Thrust 934 kN (210,000 lbf)[2]
Specific impulse 348 seconds[6]
Burn time 397 seconds[2]
Fuel LOX / RP-1

Falcon Heavy (FH), previously known as the Falcon 9 Heavy, is a reusable super heavy lift space launch vehicle being designed and manufactured by SpaceX. The Falcon Heavy is a variant of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and will consist of a strengthened Falcon 9 rocket core, with two additional Falcon 9 first stages as strap-on boosters.[8] This will increase the low Earth orbit (LEO) payload to 64 tonnes, compared to 22.8 tonnes for a Falcon 9 full thrust. Falcon Heavy was designed from the outset to carry humans into space, and would enable crewed missions to the Moon or Mars.

Following the Falcon 9 CRS-7 failure investigation in 2015, repeated rocket development delays, and given a very busy Falcon 9 launch manifest in 2016, the first Falcon Heavy is now tentatively scheduled for launch during the summer of 2017,[3] contingent upon the repair of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40.[9]


SpaceX breaking ground at Vandenberg AFB SLC-4E for the Falcon Heavy launch pad


Elon Musk first mentioned Falcon Heavy in a September 2005 news update, referring to a customer request from 18 months prior.[10] Various solutions using the planned Falcon 5 had been explored, but the only cost effective, reliable iteration was one that used a 9-engine first stage - the Falcon 9. Further exploration of the capabilities of the notional Falcon 9 vehicle led to a Falcon 9 Heavy concept: "two first stages as liquid strap on boosters, like Delta IV Heavy, allowed us to place about 25 tons into LEO – more than any launch vehicle in use today."

At this time the Falcon 1 had not seen its first flight yet, but SpaceX were intending to use a fleet composed of the 1, 5, 9 and Heavy variants, using the same Merlin engine across all vehicles to achieve cost savings and reliability through mass production. "I want to emphasize that although SpaceX development is now primarily on the Falcon 5/9, Falcon 1 is and will always remain a very important part of our business. I think that once the satellite market has time to adapt to its existence, Falcon 1 may very well see the highest launch rate per year of any rocket in the world."


As the Falcon Heavy was based on common cores and engines, subsequent development followed that of the Falcon 9.

By August 2008, SpaceX were aiming for the first launch of Falcon 9 in Q2 2009, and "Falcon 9 Heavy would be in a couple of years." Speaking at the 2008 Mars Society Conference, Elon Musk also said that a hydrogen-fuelled upper stage would follow 2–3 years later (notionally 2013).[11]

By April 2011, the capabilities of the Falcon 9 vehicle and performance were better understood, SpaceX having completed 2 successful demonstration missions to LEO, one of which included reignition of the second-stage engine. At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. on 5 April 2011, Elon Musk stated that Falcon Heavy would "carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions.”[12]

With the expected increase in demand for both variants, SpaceX were planning to expand their factory, "as we build towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks."[13]

SpaceX were targeting late 2012 for pad integration of the Falcon Heavy demonstration rocket at its west-coast launch location, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California,[14] followed by first launch in 2013.[13][15] In order to accommodate Falcon 9 and Heavy, Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg was being demolished as part of a pad upgrade.

The first launch from the Cape Canaveral east-coast launch complex was planned for late 2013 or 2014.[12]

In 2015, SpaceX announced a number of changes to the Falcon Heavy rocket, worked in parallel to the upgrade of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle.[16]

In April 2015, SpaceX sent the "U.S. Air Force an updated letter of intent April 14 outlining a certification process for its Falcon Heavy rocket to launch national security satellites." The process includes three successful flights of the Falcon Heavy including two consecutive successful flights, and states that Falcon Heavy can be ready to fly national security payloads by 2017.[17]

By September 2015, impacted by the failure of Falcon 9 Flight 19 that June, SpaceX rescheduled the maiden Falcon Heavy flight for April/May 2016,[18] but by February 2016 had moved that back to late 2016. The flight was now to be launched from the refurbished Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.[19][20] In August 2016, the demonstration flight was moved to early 2017,[21] then to Summer 2017.[3] Further missions were rescheduled accordingly.

A second demonstration flight is currently scheduled for September 30, 2017 with the STP-2 US Air Force payload.[22] Operational GTO missions for Intelsat and Inmarsat, which were planned for late 2017, were moved to the Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket version as it became powerful enough to lift those heavy payloads in its expendable configuration.[23][24] The first commercial GTO mission is scheduled in 2018 for Arabsat.[25]

On 29 December 2016, SpaceX released a photo showing the Falcon Heavy interstage at the company headquarter in Hawthorne, California.[26]


The Falcon Heavy falls into the "super heavy-lift" range of launch systems under the classification system used by a NASA human spaceflight review panel.[27]

The initial concept envisioned payloads of 25 tons to LEO, but by April 2011 this was projected to be up to 53,000 kilograms (117,000 lb)[28] with GTO payloads up to 12,000 kilograms (26,000 lb),.[29] Later reports in 2011 projected higher payloads beyond LEO, including 19,000 kilograms (42,000 lb) to geostationary transfer orbit,[30] 16,000 kilograms (35,000 lb) to translunar trajectory, and 14,000 kilograms (31,000 lb) on a trans-Martian orbit to Mars.[14][31]

By late 2013, SpaceX raised the projected GTO payload for Falcon Heavy to up to 21,200 kilograms (46,700 lb).[32]

In April 2017, the projected LEO payload for Falcon Heavy was raised from 54,400 kilograms (119,900 lb) to 63,800 kilograms (140,700 lb). The maximum payload is achieved when the rocket flies a fully expendable launch profile, not recovering any of the three first-stage boosters. [33]

Payload history Falcon Heavy Falcon 9
Aug 2013
to Apr 2016
May 2016
to Mar 2017
Since Apr 2017
LEO (28,5°) 53,000 kg 54,400 kg 63,800 kg 22,800 kg
GTO (27°) 21,200 kg 22,200 kg 26,700 kg 8,300 kg
GTO (27°) Reusable 6,400 kg 6,400 kg 8,000 kg 5,500 kg
Mars 13,200 kg 13,600 kg 16,800 kg 4,020 kg
Pluto - 2,900 kg 3,500 kg -


File:Falcon rocket family4.svg
From left to right, Falcon 1, Falcon 9 v1.0, three versions of the Falcon 9 v1.1, three versions of Falcon 9 v1.2 (Full Thrust), and the Falcon Heavy

The Heavy configuration consists of a standard Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as liquid strap-on boosters,[8] which is conceptually similar to EELV Delta IV Heavy launcher and proposals for the Atlas V HLV and Russian Angara A5V. Falcon Heavy will be more capable than any other operational rocket, with a payload of 64,000 kilograms (141,000 lb) to low earth orbit and 16,800 kilograms (37,000 lb) to trans-Mars injection.[1] The rocket was designed to meet or exceed all current requirements of human rating. The structural safety margins are 40% above flight loads, higher than the 25% margins of other rockets.[34]

Falcon Heavy was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and it would restore the possibility of flying crewed missions to the Moon or Mars.[35] The Falcon Heavy's designed payload capacity, capabilities, and total thrust are equivalent to the Saturn C-3 launch vehicle concept (1960) for the Earth Orbit Rendezvous approach to an American lunar landing.[36]

First stage

The first stage is powered by three Falcon 9 derived cores, each equipped with nine Merlin 1D engines. The Falcon Heavy has a total sea-level thrust at liftoff of 22,819 kN (5,130,000 lbf), from the 27 Merlin 1D engines, while thrust rises to 24,681 kN (5,549,000 lbf) as the craft climbs out of the atmosphere.[2]

All three cores of the Falcon Heavy arrange the engines in a structural form SpaceX calls Octaweb, aimed at streamlining the manufacturing process,[37] and each core will include four extensible landing legs.[38] To control the descent of the boosters and center core through the atmosphere, SpaceX uses small grid fins which deploy from the vehicle after separation.[39] After the side boosters separate, the center engine in each will burn for a few seconds in order to control the booster’s trajectory safely away from the rocket.[38][40] The legs will then deploy as the boosters turn back to Earth, landing each softly on the ground. The center core will continue to fire until stage separation, after which its legs will deploy and land it back on Earth as well. The landing legs are made of state-of-the-art carbon fiber with aluminum honeycomb. The four legs stow along the sides of each core during liftoff and later extend outward and down for landing. Both the grid fins and the landing legs on the Falcon Heavy are currently undergoing testing on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, which are intended to be used for vertical landing once the post-mission technology development effort is completed.[41]

Cancelled propellant crossfeed

Falcon Heavy had originally been designed with a unique propellant crossfeed capability, where some of the center core engines are supplied with fuel and oxidizer from the two side cores, up until the side cores are near empty and ready for the first separation event.[42] This allows engines from all three cores to ignite at launch and operate at full thrust until booster depletion, while still leaving the central core with most of its propellant at booster separation.[43] The propellant crossfeed system, nicknamed "asparagus staging", comes from a proposed booster design in a book on orbital mechanics by Tom Logsdon. According to the book, an engineer named Ed Keith coined the term "asparagus-stalk booster" for launch vehicles using propellant crossfeed.[44] Elon Musk has stated that crossfeed is not currently planned to be implemented, at least in the first Falcon Heavy version.[45]

Second stage

The upper stage is powered by a single Merlin 1D engine modified for vacuum operation, with a thrust at of 934 kN (210,000 lbf), an expansion ratio of 117:1 and a nominal burn time of 397 seconds. For added reliability of restart, the engine has dual redundant pyrophoric igniters (TEA-TEB).[8]

The interstage, which connects the upper and lower stage for Falcon 9, is a carbon fiber aluminum core composite structure. Stage separation occurs via reusable separation collets and a pneumatic pusher system. The Falcon 9 tank walls and domes are made from aluminium-lithium alloy. SpaceX uses an all-friction stir welded tank. The second stage tank of Falcon 9 is simply a shorter version of the first stage tank and uses most of the same tooling, material and manufacturing techniques. This approach reduces manufacturing costs during vehicle production.[8]

Reusable technology development

Although not a part of the initial Falcon Heavy design, SpaceX is doing parallel development on a reusable rocket launching system that is intended to be extensible to the Falcon Heavy, recovering all parts of the rocket.

Early on, SpaceX had expressed hopes that all rocket stages would eventually be reusable.[46] SpaceX has since demonstrated both land and sea recovery of the first stage of the Falcon 9 a number of times, and starting with payload fairing recovery.[47] This approach is particularly well suited to the Falcon Heavy where the two outer cores separate from the rocket much earlier in the flight profile, and are therefore both moving at a slower velocity at the initial separation event.[41] Since late 2013, every Falcon 9 first stage has been instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle. For the first flight of Falcon Heavy, SpaceX aim to try recovering also the second stage.[48]

SpaceX has indicated that the Falcon Heavy payload performance to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) will be reduced due to the addition of the reusable technology, but would fly at much lower launch price. With full reusability on all three booster cores, GTO payload will be 8,000 kg (18,000 lb). If only the two outside cores fly as reusable cores while the center core is expendable, GTO payload would be approximately 16,000 kg (35,000 lb).[49] "Falcon 9 will do satellites up to roughly 3.5 tonnes, with full reusability of the boost stage, and Falcon Heavy will do satellites up to 7 tonnes with full reusability of the all three boost stages," [Musk] said, referring to the three Falcon 9 booster cores that will comprise the Falcon Heavy's first stage. He also said Falcon Heavy could double its payload performance to GTO "if, for example, we went expendable on the center core."

Pricing and development funding

At an appearance in May 2004 before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Elon Musk testified, "Long term plans call for development of a heavy lift product and even a super-heavy, if there is customer demand. We expect that each size increase would result in a meaningful decrease in cost per pound to orbit. ... Ultimately, I believe $500 per pound or less is very achievable."[50] This $500 per pound ($1,100/kg) goal stated by Musk in 2011 is 35% of the cost of the lowest-cost-per-pound LEO-capable launch system in a circa-2000 study: the Zenit, a medium-lift launch vehicle that can carry 14,000 kilograms (30,000 lb) into LEO.[51]

As of March 2013, Falcon Heavy launch prices are below $1,000 per pound ($2,200/kg) to low-Earth orbit when the launch vehicle is transporting its maximum delivered cargo weight.[52] The published prices for Falcon Heavy launches have moved some from year to year, with announced prices for the various versions of Falcon Heavy priced at $80–125 million in 2011,[28] $83–128M in 2012,[29] $77–135M in 2013,[53] $85M for up to 6,400 kilograms (14,100 lb) to GTO in 2014, and $90M for up to 8,000 kilograms (18,000 lb) to GTO in 2016 (with no published price for heavier GTO or any LEO payload).[54] Launch contracts typically reflect launch prices at the time the contract is signed.

In 2011, SpaceX stated that the cost of reaching low Earth orbit could be as low as US$1,000/lb if an annual rate of four launches can be sustained, and as of 2011 planned to eventually launch as many as 10 Falcon Heavy and 10 Falcon 9 annually.[14] A third launch site, intended exclusively for SpaceX private use, is planned at Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX expects to start construction on the third Falcon Heavy launch facility, after final site selection, no earlier than 2014, with the first launches from the facility no earlier than 2016.[55] In late 2013, SpaceX had projected Falcon Heavy's inaugural flight to be sometime in 2014, but as of April 2017 the first launch is expected to occur in late summer 2017 due to limited manufacturing capacity and the need to deliver on the Falcon 9 launch manifest.[56][57]

The Falcon Heavy is being developed with private capital. No government financing is being provided for its development.[58]

By late 2013, SpaceX prices for space launch were already the lowest in the industry.[59] SpaceX's Price savings from their reused spacecraft, which could be up to 30%, could lead to a new economically driven space age.[58][60]


As of May 2013, a new, partially underground test stand was being built at the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas specifically to test the triple cores and twenty-seven rocket engines of the Falcon Heavy.[61][dated info]

Scheduled launches and potential payloads

Planned date Payload Customer Outcome Remarks
Q3, 2017[62][63] [needs update] Falcon Heavy Demo SpaceX No payload announced
30 September 2017[22][62] [needs update] USAF STP-2 DoD The mission will support the U.S. Air Force EELV certification process for the Falcon Heavy.[64] Secondary payloads include LightSail,[65] Prox-1 nanosatellite,[65] GPIM,[66][67][68] the Deep Space Atomic Clock,[69] six COSMIC-2 satellites,[70][71] and the ISAT satellite.[72]
2018[25] Arabsat 6A Arabsat Saudi Arabian communications satellite.
Q4, 2018[73] Crew Dragon Private citizens Crewed Crew Dragon, two private citizens on board. First lunar tourists, first manned Falcon Heavy. Mission will be on a free-return trajectory to the Moon.
June 2020[3] Red Dragon[74] First mission to Mars with a Dragon 2 spacecraft. Payloads and customers to be determined.
2020[75] ViaSat-3[76] ViaSat
August 2022 Mars Cargo 1[77] Start of regular cargo missions to Mars with Dragon 2 spacecraft. Open to multiple payloads and customers.

First commercial contracts

In May 2012, SpaceX announced that Intelsat had signed the first commercial contract for a Falcon Heavy flight. It was not confirmed at the time when the first Intelsat launch would occur, but the agreement will have SpaceX delivering satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).[78][79] In August 2016, it emerged that this Intelsat contract had been reassigned to a Falcon 9 Full Thrust mission to deliver Intelsat 35e into orbit in the first quarter of 2017.[23] Performance improvements of the Falcon 9 vehicle family since the 2012 announcement, advertising 8,300 kg to GTO for its expendable flight profile,[80] enable the launch of this 6-tonne satellite without upgrading to a Falcon Heavy variant.

In 2014, Inmarsat booked 3 launches with Falcon Heavy,[81] but due to delays they switched a payload to Ariane 5 for 2017.[82] Similarly to the Intelsat 35e case, another satellite from this contract, Inmarsat 5-F4, was switched to a Falcon 9 Full Thrust thanks to the increased liftoff capacity.[24] The remaining contract covers the launch of Inmarsat 6-F1 in 2020 on a Falcon 9.[83]

First DoD contract: USAF

In December 2012, SpaceX announced its first Falcon Heavy launch contract with the United States Department of Defense (DoD). "The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded SpaceX two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class missions" including the Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) mission for Falcon Heavy, originally scheduled to be launched in March 2017,[84] but later postponed to the third quarter of 2017,[85] to be placed at a near circular orbit at an altitude of ~700 km, with an inclination of 70º.[86]

The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) will be a STP-2 payload; it is a technology demonstrator project partly developed by the US Air Force.[66][87] Another secondary payload is the miniaturized Deep Space Atomic Clock.[88]

Crewed circumlunar flight

On February 27, 2017, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that the company will attempt to fly two private citizens on a free return trajectory around the moon in late 2018.[89] The Dragon 2 spacecraft would launch on the Falcon Heavy booster. The two private citizens, who have not yet been named, approached SpaceX about taking a trip around the moon, and have "already paid a significant deposit" for the cost of the mission, according to a statement from the company. The names of the two individuals will be announced later, pending the result of initial health tests to ensure their fitness for the mission, the statement said.[90] The two passengers would be the only people on board what SpaceX expects to be about a week-long trip around the moon, according to Musk, who spoke with reporters during a phone conference. "This would be a long loop around the moon. . .It would skim the surface of the moon, go quite a bit further out into deep space and then loop back to Earth," Musk said during the teleconference. "So I'm guessing, distance-wise, maybe [about 500,000 to 650,000 kilometers].[91] The Dragon spacecraft would operate, in large part, autonomously, but the passengers would have to train for emergency procedures. The Dragon 2 capsule will require some upgrades for the deep-space flight, but Musk said those would be limited mainly to installing a long-range communications system.

Solar System transport missions

In 2011, NASA Ames Research Center proposed a Mars mission called Red Dragon, that would use a Falcon Heavy as the launch vehicle and trans-Martian injection vehicle, and the Dragon capsule to enter the Martian atmosphere. The proposed science objectives were to detect biosignatures and to drill 3.3 feet (1.0 m) or so underground, in an effort to sample reservoirs of water ice known to exist under the surface. The mission cost as of 2011 was projected to be less than US$425,000,000, not including the launch cost.[92] The concept was to be formally proposed in 2012/2013 as a NASA Discovery mission but was not selected.[93]

Beyond the Red Dragon concept, SpaceX announced in May 2015 that they are positioning Dragon V2 spacecraft variants—in conjunction with the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle—to transport science payloads across much of the solar system, in cislunar and inner solar system regions such as the Moon and Mars as well as to outer solar system destinations such as Jupiter's moon Europa. Details include that SpaceX expects to be able to transport 2,000–4,000 kg (4,400–8,800 lb) to the surface of Mars, including a soft retropropulsive landing using SuperDraco thrusters following a limited atmospheric deceleration. When the destination has no atmosphere, the Dragon variant would dispense with the parachute and heat shield and add additional propellant.[94]

See also


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