SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket will launch for the first time next week. It might be the company’s most anticipated mission yet, and it could open up a new line of business — one that might interest NASA.
The new rocket will be the most powerful in the world, which means it could launch heavier and more complex cargo to space. Once the vehicle becomes operational, SpaceX could soon start launching what the company’s Falcon 9 can’t: heavier national security satellites, large habitats and telescopes, or even humans to deep space.
The Falcon Heavy’s specs are impressive. The three-core rocket boasts 27 engines, more than any other working rocket has used before. Together, these engines provide more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, allowing the vehicle to put more than 140,000 pounds of cargo into lower Earth orbit. That’s more than twice the capability of any rocket currently on the market. And it will do almost as much as NASA’s new huge rocket at a fraction of the price.
Thanks to a directive from the Trump administration, NASA is now focused on returning humans to the Moon. The space agency has been developing its own massive rocket, the Space Launch System, which could be used for lunar missions. When complete, the SLS will be even more powerful than the Falcon Heavy. However, the giant NASA rocket has its share of problems: it’s still years from making its first flight, and won’t carry people until 2022 at the earliest. Plus, early estimates show that the SLS may cost more than 10 times as much to fly than the Falcon Heavy. Incorporating a cheaper rocket may make human Moon missions more affordable.