Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, plans to build a commercial heavy-lift rocket that will carry more than twice the payload of existing large rockets at one-third the cost. That would lower the price of delivering cargo to low-Earth orbit to the long-sought, and so far mythical, $1,000-per-pound range, the company's founder and chief designer announced today.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the Falcon Heavy--made up of three Falcon 9 core stages powered by 27 upgraded Merlin engines and generating a combined 3.8 million pounds of thrust--will be ready for its initial test flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., late next year or early 2013.
It will be the most powerful U.S. launcher since NASA's Saturn 5 moon rocket. NASA is exploring options for an even more powerful, congressionally mandated "super heavy-lift rocket" for use in deep space exploration, but it's not yet clear when that vehicle will fly or what its mission will be.
Musk said he expects initial demand to reach 10 Falcon Heavy launches a year if the test flight and subsequent launches go well. Potential customers include commercial satellite operators, NASA, and the military. Musk added that the military currently plans to spend some $1.74 billion on four Air Force launches in 2012 at an average cost of $435 million per flight.
SpaceX's single-core Falcon 9 rocket is available commercially for between $50 million and $60 million, the company said in a statement, while the new Falcon Heavy will cost between $80 million and $125 million, depending on requirements.
"Falcon Heavy represents a huge economic advantage," Musk said. "Falcon Heavy costs about a third as much per flight as a Delta 4 Heavy, but carries twice as much payload to orbit. So it's effectively a six-fold improvement in the cost per pound to orbit. In fact, Falcon Heavy sets a new world record for the cost per pound to orbit of around about $1,000. That's a pretty huge leap in capability."… Read more