SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled a tantalizing first glimpse at his company's new megarocket — the Falcon Heavy — which is expected to launch on its maiden flight next month.
In an early morning Twitter post, Musk revealed several views of the new rocket under assembly inside SpaceX's hangar at Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The images show stunning views of the Falcon Heavy from above and one imposing shot of the rocket's 27 first-stage engines, nine on each of its three main boosters. [SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Rocket in Images]
"Falcon Heavy at the Cape," Musk wrote in the Twitter post.
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is a heavy-lift launch vehicle powered by two first-stage boosters from the company's Falcon 9 rockets and a central core booster that itself is a modified Falcon 9. The rocket will stand 230 feet (70 meters) tall when complete and is designed to launch payloads of up to 119,000 lbs. (57 metric tons) into space.
The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful U.S. rocket since NASA's Saturn V moon rocket and is capable of launching twice as much payload as the current record-holder, the Delta IV Heavy built by United Launch Alliance. SpaceX's rocket is also designed to be reusable, with the three core boosters built to fly back to Earth and land like SpaceX's current Falcon 9 rockets. The company test-fired the Falcon Heavy's core stage for the first time earlier this year, in May.
Musk has said that Falcon Heavy's first payload will be his own midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster, launched on a trajectory aimed for Mars orbit. However, Musk has said that there's a fair chance the rocket could fail on its debut test flight. The Falcon Heavy is expected to perform its first static-fire test on Pad 39A by the end of 2017, SpaceX representatives have said.
SpaceX also plans to use a Falcon Heavy and Dragon space capsule to launch two passengers around the moon by the end of 2018.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.