Private spaceflight concern SpaceX has been teasing the public for more than a week with rumblings of a big announcement today. Indeed, that announcement is big: about 22 stories big. SpaceX founder Elon Musk today unveiled the company’s next big thing, the Falcon Heavy rocket, a massive launch vehicle with a cargo capacity of 117,000 pounds.
SpaceX already has a deal inked with NASA to become the first private space agency to resupply the International Space Station using its smaller Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.The 27-engine Falcon Heavy, however, is aimed at hurling large government and commercial payloads into Earth orbit, and to do it on the (relatively) cheap.
By large payloads, we mean very large. The 227-foot Falcon Heavy booster is currently under construction at SpaceX’s California HQ, and when complete it will dwarf anything rivals can throw at it. The closest U.S. analog from NASA’s heavy-lift heyday would be the Saturn V, the rocket that carried the Apollo program to the moon. The closest thing the private sector can offer by way of comparison is United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV, a 50,000-pound capacity booster which currently launches the Pentagon’s heavy payloads for up to $275 million per launch.