SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch from space center in November
Rocket's 3 cores to return for individual landings
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – SpaceX's most ambitious vehicle yet – the three-core, mighty Falcon Heavy – is expected to leap off a Kennedy Space Center pad on its premiere mission in November, according to CEO Elon Musk.
According to news partner Florida Today, Musk took to Instagram and Twitter on Thursday night to announce the month of the vehicle's maiden launch from pad 39A. Musk noted all three cores would return for individual landings – the two side boosters at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the center core on the company's "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
If the stars align, Musk's 230-foot-tall Falcon Heavy could launch during the same month and from the same pad that saw NASA's storied Saturn V rumble to orbit for the first time 50 years ago on Nov. 9, 1967.
Designed to lift heavier payloads to higher orbits, Falcon Heavy incorporates 27 Merlin main engines into what appear to be three Falcon 9 first stages strapped together. Appearances aside, the vehicle needed a significantly revised center core airframe, new hardware to connect the cores, and other changes.
In March, Musk said building Falcon Heavy was a challenge beyond what SpaceX had anticipated. He defined the hurdles last week during the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, noting that the center core will undergo never-before-seen stresses due to the two side cores' powerful thrust – hence the need for a redesigned airframe.
Also thrown into the mix for engineers were altered acoustics, a new approach to aerodynamics and the hardware required to physically strap three powerful cores together, to name a few.
During the conference, Musk said the outlook for Falcon Heavy's first launch isn't a promising one.
"There's a lot of risk associated with Falcon Heavy," he said. "Real good chance that the vehicle doesn't make it to orbit. I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly."
The billionaire industrial maverick, however, remained confident enough to recommend that people visit the Space Coast for the launch of the most powerful rocket on the planet.
"I encourage people to come down to the Cape to see the first Falcon Heavy mission," he said. "It's guaranteed to be exciting."
In the meantime, SpaceX is targeting no earlier than August 14 for a Falcon 9 launch from Kennedy Space Center with a Dragon spacecraft packed with supplies and cargo destined for the International Space Station.
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