SpaceX won’t hit its 2018 target for a test flight of its new, huge Falcon Heavy rocket – but the massive launch craft is now in place at Cape Canaveral in Florida, where it will undergo testing including a full static test fire, as well as final assembly, before attempting its inaugural launch early next year.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared images of the Falcon Heavy set up in a Cape Canaveral facility, nearly complete minus some remaining elements like the fairing and payload that will top the rocket. You can however see the three boosters, each of which contains nine Merlin engines. Each of these three essentially represents a current Falcon 9, and the two that flank the central column are re-used Falcon 9s that SpaceX has flown for previous missions.
Falcon Heavy is SpaceX’s high-capacity rocket – it’ll be able to fly around 140,000 pounds of payload per launch once it’s ready to go. Bringing that kind of tonnage into low Earth orbit will mean that SpaceX can do things like combine more missions, as well as service a new category of customer with heavier cargo requirements.
SpaceX is currently aiming to do its first Falcon Heavy launch in January – and it’s apparently going to carry Musk’s own Tesla Roadster as its payload – something that seemed like a joke until it wasn’t. Also, the first Falcon Heavy flight has a chance of ending with a spectacular explosion, as Musk himself has cautioned in the past that there’s some chance things could go up in flames shortly after launch.
Testing rockets is always a risky proposition, and this one has unmatched thrust and power, so how it works in actual use is something that SpaceX can only find out by actually launching one, no matter what ground test and simulations say.