(Sen) - Space Exploration Technologies Corporation ("SpaceX") today announced details of its new rocket, the Falcon Heavy. The Falcon Heavy will be the largest rocket in production when it launches and be capable of carrying the largest payload since NASA's Saturn V moon rocket.
Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, said "Falcon Heavy will 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".
The rocket is due to be built by the end of 2012 with a planned first launch in late 2013 or 2014. The rocket will be launched from Cape Canaveral.
Falcon Heavy has been designed to carry 53 tonnes of payload into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This is more than twice the weight that the Space Shuttle can carry (24.4 tonnes).
The rocket is 227 feet tall (69.2 metres). The Saturn V launch vehicle stood at 363 feet (110 metres) tall.
Falcon Heavy will have three nine-engine cores for the first stage of launch, generating 3.8 million pounds of thrust at lift off - the equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747s taking off at the same time.
The Falcon Heavy design incorporates the redundancy and safety features of the Falcon 9, designed to operate even if multiple engines fail. Each engine is surrounded by a protective shell designed to contain a worst case situation like fire or a chamber rupture, preventing it from affecting other engines or the vehicle itself.
As well as the ability to carry large weight the Falcon Heavy is also designed to carry astronauts and will meet NASA's human rating standards. This means designing to higher structural safety margins of 40% above flight loads, rather than the 25% level of other rockets, and triple redundant avionics.
Each launch will be priced at US$80m to US$125m. This is approximately US$1,000 per lb of payload, the lowest cost in history.
The announcement is indicative of the growing role of private enterprise in space exploration with NASA entering into outsourcing contracts for certain services including transporting astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX's other rockets include the Falcon 9 and the Dragon which were awarded a contract in 2008 by NASA to provide space transportation services to and from the ISS after the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk who made a fortune with his internet business PayPal. SpaceX is based in the US where it employs over 1,250 people.