Elon Musk, the millionaire founder of private space company Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX for short) said the long planned Falcon Heavy vehicle would be ready for lift off at the end of 2012. The rocket, which he called the most powerful in the world, would be capable of taking men to the International Space Station, dropping vehicles and astronauts on the moon -- and maybe even cruising to Mars and back. "This is a rocket of truly huge scale," Musk said at a press conference unveiling the rocket. "With Falcon Heavy, we'll be able to put well over 100,000 pounds (50 tons) into orbit," he said, and possibly as much as 120,000 pounds (60 tons).
The lift capacity is almost double what has previously been discussed for the Falcon Heavy rocket (called the Falcon 9 heavy). The improved performance is from an upgrade to the Merlin rocket.
The Spacex Falcon Heavy page has been updated
BBC News - The Falcon 9-Heavy is a beefed up version of the vehicle the firm will soon use to send a robotic cargo ship to the space station. The new rocket should be capable of putting more than 53 tonnes (117,000lb) of payload in a low-Earth orbit - more than twice that of the space shuttle.
CEO Elon Musk said the rocket would be made safe enough to launch people. "It is designed to meet the Nasa human-rating standards," he said. "So, for example, it is designed to structural safety margins that are 40% above the actual flight loads it would expect to encounter."
"It's more capability than any vehicle in history apart from the Saturn 5 [Moon rocket]. So, it opens up a range of possibilities for government and commercial customers that simply aren't present with the current lifting capacity."
Mr Musk claimed the Falcon 9-Heavy would also be a breakthrough in terms of the cost. Missions would be priced at $80m-$125m, meaning each pound of payload could be delivered to orbit for around $1,000.
The Falcon Heavy consists of a standard Falcon 9 rocket with two additional Falcon 9 first-stage rockets acting as liquid strap-on boosters. The upgraded Merlin engines that power the rocket will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff -- the equivalent of 15 Boeing 747s, he said
The Falcon Heavy will also dramatically surpass the Delta IV Heavy's 25-ton capacity and the yet-to-be-built Atlas 5 Heavy's 32 tons. It will be assembled at California's Vanderburg Air Force Base, but Musk said it would be able to take off from Cape Canaveral as well.
Musk also claimed the Falcon Heavy would cost a third per flight than the Delta IV rocket, and sets a new world record for the cost per pound to orbit of around about a thousand dollars. A launch is estimated at $80 million, the company said, while an Atlas 5 costs as much as $100 million more.
Spacex Merlin rocket engines at wikipedia
Falcon Heavy will arrive at our Vandenberg, California, launch complex by the end of next year (2012), with liftoff to follow soon thereafter. First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014.
* It will be the first rocket in history to use propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core, leaving the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate.
* The side booster stages will have a mass ratio above 30, better than any vehicle of any kind in history.
* It will carry twice the payload of a Delta IV Heavy but will cost less than a third as much--it's $1,000 per pound to orbit would set a new world record in affordable spaceflight.
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