Elon Musk, SpaceX chief, announced that the company will delay the launch of their new rocket that is supposed to be the most powerful in the world. The news came during a briefing given by company executives and Musk after the explosion of their smaller Falcon 9 rocket last month. The new rocket, Falcon Heavy, was originally set to be launched in 2013 but is now delayed until spring of next year.
The Falcon Heavy is projected to be able to lift 53 tons into orbit. That is twice what the biggest operational rocket can lift. This rocket boasts 27 Merlin rocket engines with one atop the central core. It is essentially three first stage Falcon 9 rockets put together side by side.
If SpaceX delays the launch of their rocket for much longer, NASA’s Space Launch System will overshadow their project. The SLS can lift 70 tons into orbit and is scheduled for a first unmanned launch in 2018. Soon, enhanced versions of the SLS are projected to be able to lift 130 tons and perhaps launch a manned mission to Mars in the future.
Theoretically, the decision to use a heavy rocket for the deep-space program was a decision for the U.S. government. However, it seems NASA, along with their political allies, have made that decision on their own.
SpaceX and Musk have been considered for the SLS using their new methane or kerosene-powered technology which is more efficient and powerful than the old hydrogen technology used by the Shuttle.
And while the SpaceX technology could prove to be groundbreaking it will also result in a large number of lost jobs at aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed, which operated the space shuttle for NASA under a partnered monopoly called United Launch Alliance. Many people, notably politicians under intense lobbying pressure, seem unwilling to put faith in the new projects at SpaceX and maintain the same attitude during the 70’s with NASA at the helm of space exploration and innovation.
This may not have been the case if Falcon 9 hadn’t exploded upon launch or if Falcon Heavy had been released on time. Regardless, Space X and Musk are making excellent strides in development of new rockets. They are close to recovering a Falcon after a launch for reuse. Once these things are accomplished, it will be hard to not look at the SLS as outdated equipment.