You know what's cooler than a gigantic rocket? A gigantic rocket that can land itself. Elon Musk's SpaceX released a new video this week demonstrating just what it plans to do with its upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket, which is set to launch for the first time later this year.
In essence, the rocket is three of the company's current Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. The result is a rocket that can carry over 115,000 pounds (53,000 kg) — the equivalent of a fully-loaded Boeing 737 passenger jet — to low-earth orbit. When it flies later this year, the Falcon Heavy will be the world's most powerful operational rocket. Only the Saturn V rocket, which was retired in 1973 after sending Apollo missions to the moon, was more powerful.
Powerful enough to carry a fully-loaded 737 jet
But what's even more impressive is that SpaceX wants the Falcon Heavy to land itself. The company has been testing the concept for the past couple of years with its Grasshopper rockets, and more recently, the Falcon 9-R, which exploded spectacularly earlier this month during one such test. Landing the first stage rockets of the Falcon Heavy will require not just one landing, but three — one for each rocket booster. By saving the first-stage rockets, SpaceX hopes to cut costs and promote accelerated launch schedules.
While the computer-illustrated video may seem like little more than science fiction at this point, SpaceX has demonstrated that it's close to landing rockets after launching their payloads. Despite the explosion during testing this month, the Falcon 9-R did navigate its way back from the upper reaches of the atmosphere to a tiny, 300-by-100-foot barge off the coast of Florida. According to Elon Musk, had it not run out of hydraulic fluid right before landing, the rocket may have survived the trip.
Verge Video Archives: Can We Colonize Mars? (The Big Future, Ep. 2)