After years of soft scheduling that has kept pushing its debut out into the future, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, is being prepared for its maiden launch from Kennedy Space Center in January.
The Falcon Heavy, essentially three Falcon 9 rocket boosters together, is designed to be the most powerful rocket the world has seen since NASA retired the Saturn V in 1973. The Falcon Heavy is designed for both heavy-payload Earth orbit missions and deep-space missions, capable of reaching the farthest depths of the solar system.
And like the Falcon 9 rocket, the Falcon Heavy was conceived as one day taking astronauts into space. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has proposed using it for the company’s privately-run mission to get astronauts to Mars.
SpaceX has not announced a specific date yet for the debut launch, which is being called a demonstration mission. But on Thursday the company announced the blast-off is being targeted for January. Should weather permit, the rocket’s ascent should be visible through most of the Florida peninsula.
The launch will come from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, which SpaceX has leased and rebuilt to accommodate its Falcon rocket line, including the Falcon Heavy. It’s the same launch pad that many of the Saturn Vs launched from between 1967 and 1973 carrying Apollo moon and Skylab missions.
The Falcon Heavy would produce more than 5 million pounds of thrust at lift-off. SpaceX says the Falcon Heavy will have the ability to lift 54 metric tons of payload into orbit, more than twice that of the Space Shuttle rocket system, and more than twice that of any other rocket in use today.
The Falcon Heavy’s claim to being the world’s most powerful rocket will hold until NASA completes its next big rocket, the Space Launch System, which also has seen its debut date drift in time through various delays. It’s now set for a 2020 debut, also from Kennedy Space Center, from the other launch pad of the twins, Launch Complex 39B.