When Falcon Heavy lifts off later this year, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two. With the ability to lift into orbit over 53 metric tons (117,000 lb)--a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel--Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost. Falcon Heavy draws upon the proven heritage and
reliability of Falcon 9. Its first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate nearly 4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft operating simultaneously. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit. Falcon Heavy was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars.
Falcon Heavy missions will deliver large payloads to orbit inside a composite fairing, but the rocket can also carry the Dragon spacecraft.
The composite payload fairing protects satellites during delivery to destinations in low Earth orbit (LEO), geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and beyond.
Falcon Heavy draws upon Falcon 9’s proven design, which minimizes stage separation events and maximizes reliability. The second-stage Merlin engine, identical to its counterpart on Falcon 9, delivers the rocket’s payload to orbit after the main engines cut off and the first-stage cores separate. The engine can be restarted multiple times to place payloads into a variety of orbits including low Earth, geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and geosynchronous orbit (GSO).
- Burn Time
- Thrust in Vacuum
- 801kN180,000 lbf
Merlin Vacuum Engine
Merlin Vacuum Engine Test - MDCspacexchannel
Falcon 9's second stage is powered by a single Merlin vacuum engine nearly identical to the first-stage engines, but modified to operate in the vacuum of space. Like the main Merlin engines, the vacuum engine is designed and manufactured in-house by SpaceX. The engine is designed to burn for about six minutes, and can be shut down and restarted multiple times as needed to deliver different payloads into different orbits. The engine is housed inside the rocket's interstage.
Three cores make up the first stage of Falcon Heavy. The side cores, or boosters, are connected at the base and at the top of the center core’s liquid oxygen tank. The three cores, with a total of 27 Merlin engines, generate 17,615 kilonewtons (3.969 million pounds) of thrust at liftoff. Shortly after liftoff the center core engines are throttled down. After the side cores separate, the center core engines throttle back up to full thrust.
- Thrust At Sea Level
- 17,615kN3,969,000 lbf
- Thrust In Vacuum
- 20,017kN4,500,000 lbf
Each of Falcon Heavy’s side cores, or boosters, is equivalent to the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket with nine Merlin engines. At liftoff, the boosters and the center core all operate at full thrust. Shortly after liftoff, the center core engines are throttled down. After the side cores separate, the center core engines throttle back up.
Propellant Cross-Feed System
For missions involving exceptionally heavy payloads—greater than 45,000 kilograms or 100,000 pounds—Falcon Heavy offers a unique cross-feed propellant system. Propellant feeds from the side boosters to the center core so that the center core retains a significant amount of fuel after the boosters separate.
Three Nine-Engine Cores
Inside each of Falcon Heavy’s three cores is a cluster of nine Merlin engines. These same engines power Falcon 9, enabling efficiencies that make Falcon Heavy the most cost-effective heavy-lift launch vehicle in the world. With a total of 27 first-stage engines, Falcon Heavy has engine-out capability that no other launch vehicle can match—under most payload scenarios, it can sustain more than one unplanned engine shutdown at any point in flight and still successfully complete its mission.
SpaceX’s payload fairing, a composite structure fabricated in-house by SpaceX, protects satellites during delivery to low-Earth orbit (LEO), geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and beyond.Learn More
Falcon Heavy Structure
The tanks of Falcon Heavy’s three first-stage cores and second stage are made of aluminum-lithium alloy, a material made stronger and lighter than aluminum by the addition of lithium.Learn More
Falcon Heavy was designed to be fully reusable. Both the center core and side boosters carry landing legs, which will land each core safely on Earth after takeoff.Learn More
The twenty-seven Merlin engines that power Falcon Heavy's three cores are arranged in an Octaweb structure, with eight engines surrounding one center engine on each core.Learn More
The Merlin engine that powers all three Falcon Heavy cores was developed internally by SpaceX, drawing upon a long heritage of space-proven engines. A key design at the heart of Merlin was first used for the Apollo lunar landing module.Learn More
- 68.4m224.4 ft
Payload to LEO
- 53,000kg116,845 lb
Payload to Mars
- 13,200kg29,101 lb
- 11.6m38 ft
- 1,462,836kg3,225,000 lb
Payload to GTO
- 21,200kg46,738 lb
- Expected Launch in 2015
The World's Most Powerful Rocket
With nearly 4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, Falcon Heavy will be the most capable rocket flying. By comparison, the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals fifteen Boeing 747 aircraft at full power. Below is a comparison chart of the world’s heavy lift vehicles, based on historical launch data. Falcon Heavy can lift the equivalent of a fully loaded 737 jetliner--complete with passengers, luggage and fuel--to orbit. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit than Falcon Heavy.
Recent Falcon Heavy Milestones
Falcon Heavy Updates
STP-2 mission launching from Cape Canaveral in 2015. Read article
SpaceX's new Merlin 1D engine has completed a key test of its endurance. Read article