Elon Musk: 'If we are successful with this, it is game over for all the other heavy lift rockets'

SpaceX/Flickr. Public domain

  • SpaceX plans to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket system on February 7 at 9:30am p.m. AEST, though a lot could still change between now and then.
  • If it’s a success, Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful and cheapest way to launch heavy payloads into space.
  • With some modifications, Musk thinks the system could even become nearly as powerful as the most powerful rocket ever used to launch payloads, the Saturn V.

If SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch on Tuesday is successful, Elon Musk thinks the success will blow away the competition for launching heavy loads into space.

“If we are successful in this, it is game over for all the other heavy lift rockets,” Musk said on a press call Monday evening.

The first launch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on February 6 and will be broadcast live. If it succeeds, the system will not only be cheaper than any other operational heavy launch vehicle, it’ll also be the most powerful now-retired rockets like the Saturn V were more powerful).

Musk believes if the Falcon Heavy can successfully get its very cool payload into space, it will no longer make sense to use other vehicles certified for heavy lift launches, like the Delta IV Heavy, Russia’s Proton, or Europe’s Ariane 5. That’s because of the same reason SpaceX’s other rockets are already revolutionizing the business of getting to space — it’s a lot cheaper to re-use the rocket boosters that propel something out of Earth’s gravity well than to use new ones every time.

The Falcon Heavy has three boosters attached to each Falcon 9 rocket, and SpaceX has become quite good at recovering them for refurbishment and reuse. Other existing launch systems can’t recycle their boosters.

However, future competitors, like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, do plan on using reusable rockets, matching SpaceX with that crucial capability.

SpaceX/Flickr. Public domain

Cranking up the power

The Falcon Heavy isn’t the only high-powered rocket SpaceX has in the works — the company is also working on the system known as the BFR, which it plans to certify for crewed missions. Musk said it is designed to be re-used more quickly than the Falcon Heavy.

If SpaceX wanted to make Falcon Heavy even more powerful, Musk said the company could bring up the power pretty close to the Saturn V, the most powerful rocket in history. That’s because Falcon Heavy essentially takes the Falcon 9 system, which SpaceX has now launched and landed quite a few times, and adds two identical first stage boosters (which provide most of the rocket’s thrust) to the sides of the central booster, cranking up the power.

“We could dial it up to as much performance as anyone could ever want, we could add two more side boosters, make it Falcon Super Heavy, get upwards of 9 million pounds of thrust,” Musk said on the press call.

For now, it appears unnecessary for SpaceX to make a rocket that powerful. It would need extra testing and provide more power than what planned future Falcon Heavy missions would require.

SpaceX/Flickr. Public domain

It still has to work

With launch scheduled for tomorrow and weather looking good, there’s still a lot that could go wrong.

“It will be a real huge downer if it blows up, but if something goes wrong, hopefully it goes wrong far into the mission so we at least learn what goes wrong along the way,” Musk told Business Insider space correspondent Dave Mosher on the call. “I’ll just be happy if it clears the [launch] pad and doesn’t blow the pad to smithereens.”

If Falcon Heavy blows up the launchpad, it’ll take between nine months and a year to rebuild it, said Musk. There are still plenty of ways for it to fail once it gets off the ground — the whole structure could be torn apart by supersonic shockwaves or the side boosters may not separate, since that system has never been tested, for example — but at that point, SpaceX could probably launch another Falcon Heavy within a few months.

A successful flight would prove that at least the initial design works. Musk is hopeful.

“I’m sure we’ve done everything we could do to maximize the chance of success for this mission,” he said.

“It’s either going to be an exciting success or an exciting failure — I’d say tune in,” said Musk. “It’s going to be worth your time.”

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