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.