Why SpaceX's Falcon Heavy launch may be a game-changer

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, on Feb 6, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - The successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX is significant for several reasons. Here are some of the reasons why it could be a game-changer:

- The rocket will pack up to 2.5 million kg of thrust in its first stage, and will be able to lift a 64-tonne payload to low-Earth orbit. That's twice as powerful as its two main competitors, the Delta IV and Atlas V, with a payload that's twice as heavy. The vessel's lift-off thrust is equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft.

- Mr Musk boasts of prices starting at US$90 million to launch the rocket. That's lower than the US$109 million price tag for the launch of the Atlas V rocket. It's also a significant saving versus the US$400 million per launch price tag of the Delta IV.

- The recovery and reuse of the boosters for the rocket is a significant achievement, bringing down future launch costs by landing them on pads back on solid Earth or on floating barges and then recycling them for future launches.

- The company has streamlined its production methods. Rather than producing multiple engines with different horsepower ratings, it makes just one: the Merlin. The more powerful a rocket has to be, the more Merlins are bundled into its first stage. The Falcon Heavy uses 27 first stage engines in total.

- Heavy-lift boosters are technology you can use not just to get to Earth orbit, but to get out of it too, pressing on to deep-space destinations like the moon and Mars.

- The company says the rocket would also enable crewed missions to the Moon and Mars as well.

- The rocket will permit the launch of large batches of satellites, such as those for Mr Musk's proposed constellation of thousands of spacecraft to deliver broadband across the globe.

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