The most powerful rocket in the world is getting ready to take flight for the first time in more than three years.
SpaceX posted a photo of that milestone on Twitter (opens in new tab) Sunday (Oct. 23), showing the three boosters laid out horizontally, their combined 27 Merlin engines all visible.
“Falcon Heavy in the hangar at Launch Complex 39A,” the company tweeted as a caption to the photo.
Those three boosters are modified first stages of the Falcon 9, SpaceX’s workhorse rocket. The Falcon Heavy straps them together and puts a payload-carrying second stage atop the central booster.
Together, those 27 Merlin engines generate about 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, which is unmatched among rockets flying today.
“Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two,” SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy specifications page reads (opens in new tab). “With the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb), Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the [United Launch Alliance] Delta IV Heavy.”
The current Falcon Heavy work at Pad 39A supports USSF-44, a coming mission that will launch two classified satellites to distant geostationary orbit for the U.S. Space Force. The launch date has not yet been officially announced, though various sources identify a “no earlier than” date of Oct. 31 (opens in new tab).
Falcon Heavy first stages, like those of the Falcon 9, are designed to be reusable. But only two of the three boosters on USSF-44 will come back to Earth for safe touchdowns; the central core will be ditched, falling into the sea when its launch work is done.
USSF-44 will be the first Falcon Heavy launch since June 2019 and just the fourth overall for the burly rocket. Its debut in February 2018 was one of the most memorable launches in recent memory: The test flight sent Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster, “driven” by a spacesuit-clad mannequin named Starman, into orbit around the sun.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).