Long Delayed Falcon Heavy Flight Set for Spring 2016

Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)

After a three-year delay, SpaceX plans to fly its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle for the first time next spring, followed quickly by three additional flights of the 28-engine rocket by the end of 2016.

Lee Rosen, SpaceX’s vice president of mission and launch operations, laid out the ambitious schedule for the heavy-lift rocket during an appearance at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2015 conference in Pasadena earlier this week.

The first flight in April or May will be a demonstration mission of the new launch vehicle, which features three modified Falcon 9 cores with 27 engines as its first stage. Falcon Heavy is designed to lift more 53 metric tons (58.4 tons) into low Earth orbit.

SpaceX also has Falcon Heavy launches scheduled for the U.S. Air Force, Inmarsat and ViaSat in 2016. The Air Force mission will carry the Space Test Program 2 mission, which will test a number of satellites and technologies, and The Planetary Society’s LightSail-B spacecraft.

Falcon Heavy was announced in 2011 with an expected launch date of early 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Launch dates have repeatedly slipped and initial flights were moved to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX is completing modifications to Launch Complex 39A, which formally hosted space shuttle and Apollo flights. The company also has built a new launch vehicle processing facility near the pad.

SpaceX also will use Launch Complex 39A for flights of its crewed Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.

  • Hug Doug

    Why did the dozens of other proposals that year not get past the proposal phase?

  • TimR

    Astrobotic is I think the only one scheduled and with Falcon. So they have until end of 2017 to attempt a landing and win the prize. They just have to have the contract for launch signed by end of this year. SpaceX could push out the launch some months without busting their GLXP attempt. The CRS-7 failure is likely to impact and push out Astrobotic’s launch from late ’16 to 2017.

  • DTARS

    Yup time to quit messing around and figure out how to get s@$& up there 🙂

  • DTARS

    A pre depot is the most important!

  • Vladislaw

    How would boeing push the starliner to a earth moon lagrange point? wouldn’t the EDS have to go through certification?

    Wouldn’t be Orion and SLS in 2022 as the earliest?

  • Hug Doug

    Excellent points.

    My point was that no matter where the BA330 was, LEO or elsewhere, there’d be no way to get to it until 2017 at the earliest, so there’s no reason to launch one with the Falcon Heavy demo.

  • windbourne

    NASA is not cheerleading SLS or Orion. The idiots in CONgress are.

  • windbourne

    Not sure that it matters. Once dragon V2 lands on earth, it will not take much to send a dragon to Mars. At that point, all spacex has to do is announce that he is sending one that can land , say 5 tonnes of equipment. Then NASA can simply pay to put equipment on there. And for less than 250 million, NASA has a new landing system able to keep going to Mars for cheap.

  • windbourne

    NASA , or DOD, are already paying for FH test. Spacex can do their own dragon on their dime. There is no reason for NASA to pay another cent.

  • DTARS

    How are are they paying for it? You mean by paying for other flights?

  • mzungu

    They do change, but it’s slow and subtle for a reason. When LM drop that NASA satellite on the ground, they practically disassembled the whole thing and re-qualify all the parts being reused, and then put it together.

    You have to do all that and be somewhat conservative for a Sat. that you want to work for 15+ yrs by itself in them extreme environment. It’s frustrating at times, but if you done this kind of things for a while and gone through a few hells of accident investigation…you learn.

  • TimR

    I’m warming up to this idea of yours and DTARS lunar free return trajectory. Delivery of GLXP-ers is not in the cards but the rest, I like.

  • TimR

    EM-1 (sls & orion) is scheduled for Nov 2018 which in NASA time is somewhere in 2019. I like the free return idea with dragon on the maiden flight of heavy. “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” – song of my older brothers’ era 🙂

  • TimR

    If you could get a public sponsored drive promoting such a mission with the maiden flight of Heavy, then SpaceX would not have to take responsibility for the idea. NASA couldn’t stand there tee-d off with some private enterprise (‘X) taking their thunder.

    If you crowd fund the idea, that could bring public exposure and maybe it could go say, ‘viral’. Crowd funding won’t pay the cost but I’d agree with others that it shouldn’t cost much if you don’t get extravagant with the mission profile. You could find sponsors – corporates – that would match funds.

    The drive could call for the free-return trajectory but taking GLXP-ers is not possible because none of them are ready by mid-2016. It might be possible to impact the Falcon upper stage into the Moon’s polar region. It could be timed to permit LRO to study the ejecta as it did with the LCROSS impact.

    It might also be possible to attach a small probe to the Dragon’s ISS docking mechanism and release it upon approach to the Moon. The small probe could carry a hydrazine propulsion system that could inject it into a lunar orbit. One spacecraft bus that might fit such an idea is the Ball Configurable Platform-100 (BCP-100). 70 Kg payload, 180 kg wet. If Ball Aero had a spare BCP-100 ready now, off the shelf components – telecom and an imager could be integrated quickly.

    NASA is an arrogant monstrosity. Recall how Bolden said that ‘no one is going to Mars without NASA’s involvement’. That might be true but it should not extend to everything and NASA pressuring the private sector to abandon some mission ideas. As others have mentioned, one-upping EM-1 with a free return around the Moon might be pulling on NASA’s cape but if there is any truth to such a mentality, this is the time for it end.

  • TimR

    Wouldn’t be a slap in the face by ‘X if a public drive independent of ‘X promoted it. “By popular demand”. As I outline below to DTARS, run a crowdfunding (IndieGoGo) and find corporate sponsor to match funds.

  • TimR

    This could be taken one step further. Forget the GLXP involvement but modify the free return trajectory and use an Earth flyby as a gravity assist to escape and send the dragon to Mars! The 2016 Mars launch window is from Jan 2016 – Apr 2016. These are not hard numbers; just takes more impulse to get there. You could launch even in May especially with the ample delta-V that a Falcon Heavy could provide. And you could just skip the lunar swing-by and go directly to Mars. Who knows. SpaceX engineers and management should be keenly aware of every launch window to Mars. Maybe they are secretly plotting this idea right now. Still I think a public drive promoting free-return and/or flight to Mars would be very cool.

    Some hydrazine prop system would need to be attached to Dragon to perform MOI. The Dragon heat shield could be easily used (~14,000 mph) to aerobrake and minimize the propulsion system needed.

  • Stuart

    Better to get it right.

  • TimR

    I’m encouraging DTARS idea of a free-return trajectory around the Moon (see below). Use a public crowd funding drive to raise interest as well as some funds. Interestingly, the 2016 launch window to Mars is from Jan to April but still could be done in May probably even June considering the delta-V that a Heavy would provide. Around the Moon and back, or free-return and a Earth gravity assist to Mars or just go directly to Mars. Aerobrake the Dragon into orbit; the on board Dragon thrusters might be enough to adjust the elliptical orbit some; maybe a series of aerobraking maneuvers such as MGS did. With the right elliptical orbit, close flybys of the two martian moons could be accomplished and that would have scientific merit. The first private mission to Mars even this modest one would be impressive. I think Mars mission advocates such as Mars Society or even Mars One should support such a public crowd-funding drive for the payload of the maiden flight of Heavy.

  • TimR

    With the maiden flight of Heavy, send a simple dragon capsule packing to Mars. The ’16 launch window is from Jan to April and even May or June would be possible with a Heavy. Aerobrake it into orbit. Adjust the orbit for eventual close flybys of Deimos and Phobos. The notion created here of a free-return flight to the Moon could be instead a free-return with gravity assist to Mars or just direct to Mars. I think the major expense of such a payload to Mars would be the time maintaining the craft during cruise and then upon arrival at Mars. SpaceX could find some means to profit from the mission. A simple trip to orbit an unmanned craft around Mars by a private enterprise would be an historic milestone.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Doubt Dragon’s superdracos could support the retropropulsion and landing of Dragon with 5 tonnes of cargo. Wikipedia Red Dragon suggests 1 tonne of payload.

  • windbourne

    Fine. Make it 1 tonne.
    However, this was supposed to be more than any other mission. Seems like curiosity would outweigh this.

    Still, if spacex sends a mission to Mars, I suspect that NASA will happily find money to put equipment onboard and pay for it. Of course, he may have to send first one on his dime.

  • windbourne

    I’m wrong. This is 100% on spacex dime.

  • ThomasLMatula

    That would not be problem. Unlike the ISS it is rugged enough not to need a continuous crew aboard. The two test craft BA launched a decade ago, and still under BA’s control, have demonstrated the potential for an inflatable to hold pressure for decades. And unlike ISS it won’t need constant boasts to stay in orbit due to atmospheric drag.

    So if it has to wait until 2017, or even 2024 for a crew, no problem, it will be there, silently drawing attention to the potential of a post ISS Solar System 🙂

  • ThomasLMatula

    Why? It is not like the ISS that needs a continuous crew aboard. BA hasn’t paid to launch one because it makes no sense to spend the money with no revenue stream.

    But if SpaceX launches it “free” on the demo for part ownership a BA330 could wait years for someone to enter it. And yes, it would be a great place for SpaceX crews to train before Elon Musk sends them to Mars.

    It would also clearly send the message SpaceX is not in this just for government contracts, but because it’s organizational mission is to reach Mars. NASA and others are welcome to join its quest, but their participation is not regarded as necessary.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I could see Space X doing a Zond style Lunar flyby. Communications won’t be totally outrageous only hard, and the time period for the mission is short. Think about what you’re asking for. A interplanetary mission with escape from Earth on top of a maiden flight. The question of a lot of the posts on this thread deal with the problem of getting the F9H ready for flight given all of Space X’s other commitments. Preparing a Dragon for even a Lunar flyby would involve several FTE’s for months installing communications, interfacing with controls systems, testing, and interfacing with the launch vehicle. Someone also has to build, pay for, ask permission to use the DSN, or build a lunar capable system out of parts that already exist. I can’t see that happening fast for a Mars mission, but for a Lunar flyby, I think it could be done by employing high end Ham Radio operators. A Zond style mission would take a week, a Mars flyby, or Mars orbital mission would go for over a year. Think about what you’re asking for and ask if you could build an organization off the internet that could handle even the most obvious tasks. Have you seen something of that scale and difficulty organically grown off the internet yet? That’s really difficult.

  • TimR

    Think about the company we are talking about. They live and breath to go to Mars. They are being realistic in order to increase revenue but even they have to take chances. They do and this could be one.

    If you can’t afford NASA DSN, there are university, amateur and even commercial assets that can link with a 5 W transmitter and mid-gain antenna beyond the Moon. A Dragon has better than that.

    They’ve built a few dragons now. They have a process. I do not know if they have Dragon’s sitting on the shelf. The cost of prepping one for the Moon would be near the same as LEO and much less prep and requirements for a COTS mission to ISS.

    Managing a Dragon to Mars for 7 months and then orbit could be done bare bones for ~12 FTE – about $2M. Call it $4M. With ground telecom and expending a dragon, it could be done for $20 to $30M not including the cost of the maiden flight of Heavy. That’s not going to break their bank and fund raising plus 2 or 3 hefty contributors might chip off $5M. Add some sponsors to the Dragon capsule to Mars or even the Moon could take raise some millions. Nike, GoPro, Solar City, etc.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Tim Said: “If you can’t afford NASA DSN, there are university, amateur and even
    commercial assets that can link with a 5 W transmitter and mid-gain
    antenna beyond the Moon. A Dragon has better than that.”

    Offhand I don’t know what antenna pattern a Dragon uses, but do you know what freq band and what transmission modes are used? Can the modem’s have their baud rate lowered to allow for the vast increase in distance. Because I assume you’re not going to ask for a whole new set of LO’s and mixers rated for another order of mag or two of power to keep the same baud rate as you increase distance by several orders of magnitude.

    Years ago when when I was having coffee with some friends working on Cassini they made an offhand remark that the comm link test for the descent to Titan did not go so well. This was during cruse to Saturn. I made a offhand joke that someone in management forgot to include the need for doppler shifting the radios to account for the relative motion of the spacecraft to the lander. We all laughed at that. No way it could have happened. Two weeks later we found out it did. You might be surprised what kinds of gotchas are hiding in a system of systems based on assumptions that are not accounted for or even overlooked at step 3. I’d bet that Dragon has a lot of ‘work arounds’ that are just fine so long as you’re in Earth orbit, but will bite you in the back side once you decide to leave.

    And on that University team that can establish duplex communications with a 5W Tx on the remote side. What station are they using? Again, what band, and what mode?

    Tim Said: The cost of prepping one for the Moon would be near the same as LEO and
    much less prep and requirements for a COTS mission to ISS.

    Again, I’m asking …. The radiation environment for high end electronics is different as you cross, and after you leave the Earth’s magnetic field/ Van Allen Belts. Do you positively know that they rated Dragon’s electronics for long term operations in the radiation of interplanetary space? Remember Mars-Grunt. Radiation really does whack modern electronics hard.

    The money …. Have you ever run a organization that was capable of dealing with the flow of millions of dollars? That’s a non trivial task forming and keeping an organization like that going. It’s a tall task.

  • Hug Doug

    Good luck. You never raise enough money to do it. Take a really good look at the history of the crowdfunding efforts related to attempts to do things in space.

  • Hug Doug

    However, it will be a few years before we are near that point.

  • TimR

    For free-return, I’d suspect the on board thrusters would be enough. The second stage could be shed during the trans-lunar to impact the Moon at some choice location.

  • TimR

    I already noted that crowd funding wouldn’t add up to the cost. If executed well, it might raise a million or two for a mission that would cost maybe $10M beyond something to just LEO (dragon & mission ops). The main intention would be to raise interest, popular demand. If you slap Nike, GoPro and Coca-Cola on Dragon with a Selfie-Stick camera, that might raise the extra funds for the capsule. Just the capsule, barebones, costs what (<$10M)?

  • mike

    NASA FISO Telecon: Mars Sample Return Using Red Dragon
    Sep 9th
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/ccdml6ljj9c4pgare18ein35tr8

  • Hug Doug

    I have to imagine they will shoot for the next discovery – class mission from NASA.

  • Hug Doug

    Estimated cost for Dragon capsule is about $30 million.

  • windbourne

    Oh, I think that the first red dragon will not happen any earlier than 2020, and probably 2022.

  • windbourne

    ask doug, not me.

  • TimR

    Is that SRP or manufacturing cost?

  • Since SpaceX says the F9 v1.2 will have 30% inceased performance that might mean the Falcon Heavy will a comparable increase. In that case, the max payload may increase from 53 metric tons to 70.
    If so, then it will have the same capacity as the gigadollar SLS in it first incarnation.

    Bob Clark

  • Hug Doug

    As far as I know, doesn’t have a retail price. SpaceX has not offered to sell the capsules.

  • TimR

    The NASAspaceflight article says they are now re-using pressure vessels from past CRS flights. Whether they could reuse a whole capsule – slap some new paint on it and a new heatshield – would be interesting to know. NASA requirements are probably too steep to use a capsule re-entered and dipped in the ocean but for their private use, maybe.

  • DTARS

    Seems SpaceX maybe looking into reusability of cargo dragons already
    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2015/09/spacex-conducts-falcon-9-improvements-busy-schedule/

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Some of the extra performance is coming from the first stage and some from the second. The first stage thrust increase might apply equally to FH, but not so sure the second stage increase would directly translate to a full 30% increase on the Heavy. Even so, somewhere 60+ tonnes would still be impressive. Also, given the great cost disparity compared to SLS, a “one-off” second stage could probably get lift to LEO on par. More likely we’ll have to be patient and wait for the Raptor powered BFR to demonstrate to the world the cost insanity of SLS.

  • TimAndrews868

    Did you miss the Orion test flight, when Bolden and other NASA officials kept talking to the press about how Orion was the vehicle that would one day take us to Mars? They don’t have a Mars mission planned, but they are cheerleading/promoting SLS and Orion as our chariots to Mars.

  • ILikeFish

    Building a new pad costs a lot more than people realize. If SpaceX were to build two pads in tandem they would burn cash at 2x the rate. We’re talking hundreds of millions a year.

    Now, it’s not like they couldn’t manage that, but having your cash flow way up past your annual revenue is bad for the books. Plus the pad in Texas is being advertised as way better than all those boring slow government launch pads- they want to develop automated refueling and such things that allow them to launch very quickly. So they might want to apply the lessons learned from one to the building of the other.

  • Hug Doug

    Maybe. I was interested to hear that they intend to reuse a pressure vessel, that’s a milestone in and of itself, for a capsule, I don’t think it’s ever been done before. I hope we get more information about that.

  • windbourne

    Yeah; They said it.
    Do you believe it? I do not. I think that they are simply playing the neo-cons like Shelby and Hatch.
    We are not going to send ppl to Mars in Orion.
    It is WAYYY tooo small and too heavy.

    Instead, it will almost certainly be via inflatable, such as Bigelow or ILC. And the landing craft will already be on Mars ready to go. I would guess that it will be running back and forth between Martian surface and one of the moons on which we place a small base.

  • windbourne

    Actually, if they can keep it at 55 tonnes and it costs say 70M to launch, then they will destroy the SLS myth.

  • TimAndrews868

    Edit: Ooops. Didn’t see your other reply, I had to click “see more replies.” Yep, SpaceX is footing the bill on this one.