(Sen) - Satellite provider Intelsat has booked a satellite launch aboard SpaceX's most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy.
The Falcon Heavy has not yet launched and will undergo tests before attempting to launch an Intelsat satellite.
The Falcon Heavy is one of three rockets in the SpaceX fleet which consists of the Falcon 1, the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy. All the Falcon rockets are powered by SpaceX's own Merlin engines.
Falcon 1 is the smallest of the three launchers and is designed to put small satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LOE). Falcon 1, which is powered by a single Merlin engine, has had several successful launches.
Falcon 9, powered by nine Merlin engines, has had three successful launches including most recently putting the Dragon spacecraft into orbit for its mission to the International Space Station.
The Falcon Heavy is the largest of the family. Announced in April 2011, the Falcon Heavy will be able to lift 53 metric tons to Low Earth Orbit and 12 metric tons to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). The rocket's design is based on the architecture of the current Falcon 9 rocket, but the Falcon Heavy has 27 Merlin engines producing 3.8 million pounds of thrust - equivalent to the power of 15 Boeing 747s at take off - allowing it to lift more than twice the payload of the now retired Space Shuttle (24.4 tons). Only NASA's Saturn V moon rocket generated more thrust.
Intelsat, which provides satellites for media companies, telecommunications and government agencies, will see one of its satellites launched aboard the Falcon Heavy into Geostationary Transfer Orbit where communications satellites orbit Earth in permanent positions synchronised to a fixed point on the Earth
Speaking about the contract, Thierry Guillemin, Intelsat CTO said: "Timely access to space is an essential element of our commercial supply chain. As a global leader in the satellite sector, our support of successful new entrants to the commercial launch industry reduces risk in our business model. Intelsat has exacting technical standards and requirements for proven flight heritage for our satellite launches. We will work closely with SpaceX as the Falcon Heavy completes rigorous flight tests prior to our future launch requirements."
This is the first booking for the Falcon Heavy. Elon Musk, founder, CEO and chief designer of SpaceX commented: "SpaceX is very proud to have the confidence of Intelsat, a leader in the satellite communication services industry. The Falcon Heavy has more than twice the power of the next largest rocket in the world. With this new vehicle, SpaceX launch systems now cover the entire spectrum of the launch needs for commercial, civil and national security customers."
As well as the ability to carry heavy payloads, the Falcon Heavy is also designed to carry astronauts and is designed to meet NASA's human rating standards. SpaceX is also developing its Dragon spacecraft to carry up to seven astronauts.
The contract win comes after a very successful week for SpaceX which became the first private space company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. Its Dragon spacecraft will leave the space station today and return to Earth. The craft will splashdown in the Pacific ocean.
The Falcon Heavy is 227 feet tall (69.2 metres). The Saturn V launch vehicle stood at 363 feet (110 metres) tall. The infographic below shows the sizes of various rockets.
Infographic: Evolution of the rocket. Click to enlarge