STATES CHRONICLE – SpaceX, one of Elon Musk’s most innovative projects, started in 2002 with the goal of improving space technology for human missions in the solar system. Now, based on the company’s most recent release, in just a few months, it may reach another major milestone.
Target: the Falcon Heavy Rocket
The canceled Apollo program of Moon landings in the early 1970s brought an end to astronauts leaving Earth orbit, as the Space Shuttle missions remained close to home. With the U.S. Government cutting back funds, NASA could only afford to send small unmanned probes to visit other planets.
However, by 2003, Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur, was already publicly promoting missions to Mars. Now, SpaceX, his aerospace company, is working with NASA on specific ideas to colonize the Red Planet.
Human missions in space require food, water, and breathable air, which all have substantial mass. Lifting the heavy weight of a manned space capsule out of Earth’s gravity has always been a major challenge. The Saturn V rocket was the world’s most powerful rocket in the 1970s. That distinction now belongs to the SpaceX rocket Falcon Heavy. It is set to take off later this year, in November 2017. This rocket system can lift over fifty metric tons, and thus the “Dragon” capsule with manned or unmanned capabilities.
The large payload capacity comes by joining three Falcon boosters with a newly-implemented technique called “propellant cross-feeding.” All three rockets start at full thrust. But at a particular altitude, the two side thrusters pump their fuel into the center rocket and drop off. What makes the Falcon Heavy rockets and their payload bays comparatively inexpensive is that they are all recoverable and reusable.
Musk’s company has significantly refined the NASA Space Shuttle concept of reusing the same spacecraft and components. This planned November launch of the Falcon Heavy will be the first test of the three linked rockets. Some even see it is as a rekindling of the manned space program.
Image Source: Flickr