Clear November in your diary: SpaceX teases first Falcon Heavy liftoff

Reusable rockets also look good to go back up

Gwynne Shotwell
SpaceX prez ... Gwynne Shotwell's shooting for the stars

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell has confirmed that the company's much-delayed Falcon Heavy rocket will blast off from Cape Canaveral in November.

The Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket on the planet, capable of lifting 53 metric tons of cargo into orbit and then landing back on Earth for reuse. The first flight had been scheduled for 2013, but design issues and SpaceX's explosive Falcon 9 failure have set the launch date back.

Speaking to the Satellite 2016 conference, Shotwell said that the Falcon Heavy, which consists of a Falcon 9 rocket with two full first-stage boosters strapped to its sides, will lift off from NASA's historic Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral, which also launched Apollo 11 and the first and last Space Shuttle missions.

According to Space News, Shotwell said: "We don't need to have Pad 39A operational this year to get caught up on the manifest."

"But I do think we are probably going to launch a Falcon 9 before we do the Falcon Heavy in November. SES actually wants to fly from 39A, so we are going to see if we can get that ready for SES-10 and maybe SES-11."

SES is one of SpaceX's key customers, and Elon's Musketeers launched a communications satellite for the firm on Friday, after four attempts had to be called off.

SES CEO Karim Michel has said his firm wants to be the first to use a pre-used Falcon 9 rocket that has landed after a delivery mission, but that SES expects a 50 per cent discount on the launch price for doing so.

He may be disappointed – Shotwell said that a 30 per cent rate cut is more likely. The fuel for a rocket launch costs about $1m and refurbishing a used rocket could cost up to $3m per unit, so the firm can only really afford to cut the cost of a launch down to $40m.

She said that the first tests on the one rocket stage that SpaceX has successfully landed were very promising, and the rocket was in good shape. When the engineers took the covers off the returned rocket, the engines were good to go.

"It was extraordinary how great it looked. In fact we didn't refurbish it at all. We inspected it and then three days later we put it on the test stand and fired it again," she said.

"The goal is not to design a vehicle that needs refurbishing. It is to design a vehicle that we can land, move back to the launch pad, and launch again. Hopefully our customers will get comfortable flying the third or fourth time."

While the company works on getting the Falcon Heavy ready to fly, normal orbital deliveries will continue and will be stepped up, Shotwell said. SpaceX plans on making another 16 deliveries this year, and in 2017 the cadence will be stepped up to 24 launches for the year. ®

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