After years of delays and setbacks, SpaceX is finally ready to launch the maiden flight of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is scheduled for Feb. 6.
SpaceX has said that the launcher, with its 27 engines and 3 boosters, will be the most powerful rocket currently flying when it makes its debut on Tuesday.
But how does that really stack up?
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy will be one of the first of a new generation of powerful rockets designed to bring payloads deep into space.
Plenty of companies are interested in developing or have already developed their own heavy-lift rockets, in the hopes that industry players and nations will want to buy rides to orbit or beyond aboard their launchers.
Standing at 230 feet tall, the rocket is basically three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together, and it has the power to show it.
The rocket is designed to bring 140,660 pounds of mass to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 58,860 pounds to Geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
For comparison, United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy — the most powerful rocket launching now — can bring 62,540 pounds to LEO and 30,440 pounds to GTO.
Once the Falcon Heavy flies, it certainly won’t be the most powerful rocket to successfully touch the void.
The Saturn V — the rocket that brought humans to the moon for the first time — had the ability to launch about 308,000 pounds of mass to LEO.
The Falcon Heavy is expected to help SpaceX bring more to orbit and beyond than ever before, delivering payloads to deep space destinations like Mars and the moon.
Of course, other launchers are able to do that same thing. The Delta IV Heavy for example, launched the Orion spacecraft on a test flight, and the Atlas V rocket launched the Curiosity rover to Mars.
NASA is also in the process of building its Space Launch System rocket, which is expected to launch people and payloads to distant parts of the solar system when it finally begins its flights sometime in the 2020s (assuming there are no significant delays).
What really makes the Falcon Heavy stand out is SpaceX’s typical flair.
For one, SpaceX is expecting that the Falcon Heavy will eventually be a cheaper option for launching large payloads to deep space thanks to its reusability.
The company is planning to land all three of the Falcon Heavy boosters back on Earth after sending payloads on their way, allowing them to refurbish and eventually refly the boosters for other missions.
This kind of recycling should reduce the cost of spaceflight because instead of just using a booster once and discarding it — like traditional launches — the Falcon Heavy’s boosters can be used more than once, with potentially just the fuel being the main cost of a rocket’s re-flight.