Saturn V moon rocket was last launched in 1973. Known as the biggest, most powerful rocket for decades, Saturn V’s purpose had always been a simple one: to launch Apollo missions. But now, no longer operational, it is paving the way for the Falcon Heavy to take the spot as the most powerful rocket in the world.
On February 6, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Falcon Heavy first took off for a test flight. It was manufactured and designed by Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX. This was a historical moment as it was the first time a rocket this powerful was launched by a private company without any NASA involvement.
Falcon Heavy was developed mainly for commercial use; it has several purposes other than launching Apollo missions, and has the ability to carry out various operations for anyone. The greatest aspect of this rocket is that it is reusable. In the past, the boosters that aided any space rocket were used only once, and could not be used again. Falcon Heavy aimed to return its boosters, and even its core stage, back to earth for immediate refurbishment and reuse.
After its first flight, Falcon Heavy succeeded in returning its boosters safely back to earth. The boosters that were used had been launched before in previous missions conducted by SpaceX, and had already been returned back to earth and reused. Before its launch, Falcon Heavy was equipped with these reused boosters and proved that it was indeed possible for rockets to be reused, effectively reducing the prices for space travel. This achievement itself is phenomenal.
Another cost reducing factor for Falcon Heavy is how SpaceX chose to focus on producing one type of engine rather than several different types. Falcon Heavy is composed of 27 Merlin engines that generate more than 5 million lb of thrust for the liftoff.
Before Falcon Heavy was launched, the rocket was estimated to be worth $90 million, but recently Elon Musk confirmed that a fully functioning Falcon Heavy would be worth $150 million. That might be $60 million more, but if one were to compare that price to that of the no longer operational Saturn V rocket, which is estimated to be $1.16 billion, Falcon Heavy is remarkably cheaper. When compared to a rocket that is still in use today, such as the Delta IV Heavy which is worth $400 million, Falcon Heavy is still exceptionally cheap.
The maximum capability (also known as the payload weight) that Falcon Heavy can deliver to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) is 140,660 lb. This is the greatest payload weight in the world, surpassing many of its competitors, such as Atlas V 551, which can deliver a maximum payload weight of 40,810 lb to LEO. Additionally, the Falcon Heavy has the ability to lift more than twice the maximum payload of its competitor, Delta IV Heavy, for ⅓ of the cost.
When asked what she thinks about Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy, Kiki Szemraj ‘19 said: “Personally I think it’s a very frontier piece of technology that is going forward . . . it is also a big deal for Americans and the fact that we’re able to, maybe in a couple 50 years, go to Mars and settle [there] is very cool.”
As the current most powerful rocket, Falcon Heavy has made a major impact and is leading future technology that will enable people to travel to space with less cost and more ease.