SpaceX's Huge Falcon Heavy Rocket: How It Works (Infographic)

Diagram of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy.
Details of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and comparison with other boosters. (Image credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

The next generation of super heavy-lift launch vehicle is the privately developed SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Although NASA's Saturn V moon rocket could lift about two and a half times as much mass, the Falcon Heavy would still be the most powerful U.S. rocket to be launched since the Saturns were retired in 1972.

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Overall the Falcon Heavy is 224 feet tall (68.4 meters) and can lift 53 metric tons into orbit. Its first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 rocket boosters, with a total of 27 Merlin 1D rocket engines.

Once the first stage has separated, the second stage fires its single Merlin 1D rocket engine to put the payload into orbit. Both stages burn kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen.

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SpaceX is planning a reusable version of the Falcon Heavy would have landing legs built into the first stage rockets, allowing for them to fly back to the launch site and land for refurbishment.

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Karl Tate contributor

Karl's association with goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. From 2010 to 2016, Karl worked as an infographics specialist across all editorial properties of Purch (formerly known as TechMediaNetwork).  Before joining, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University and now works as a freelance graphic designer in New York City.