The Falcon Heavy has flown before, but now he has a payload that matters and the rivals on his heels. It is the first of a new generation of launcher that allows large payloads to travel cheaply and often into space, opening a new frontier in the space competition. Watch it take off on Sunday afternoon (we'll remind you).
On February 7 Falcon Heavy will fly for the first time since its opening check last February, bringing the now unwelcome Tesla Roadster and "Starman" into an aircraft trajectory that has taken them past Mars. At this successful launch, SpaceX received its first customer for the system, and on Sunday, a geosynchronous orbit was launched into orbit with the Arabsat-6A communications satellite built by Lockheed, as scheduled at 3:36 am on Sunday afternoon. SpaceX boss Elon Musk in particular pointed out on Twitter that Block 5 Falcon Heavy (ie the production overhaul compared to the trial we've seen) has 1
Why is Falcon Heavy so important? After all, since Apollo, there have been launchers capable of transporting a hundred tons of material into orbit or beyond. Put simply, the difference lies in the price.
Getting everything into space is difficult enough. However, heavier payloads become exponentially harder to lift: the equations we've known for about a century, and determine how much lift is needed to bring a certain amount of mass into orbit and how much fuel is needed to make that lift to create. that is clear.
With advances in materials and rocket engines, they have benefited disproportionately from small and medium-sized launchers. Coupled with the decreasing size of satellite payloads, this has created a new and promising era for small ships that can be launched in large numbers – as we see in the many promises of deploying thousands of strong constellations.
Efficiently made disposables Like Rocket Labs Electron and reusable ones like the Falcon 9 have pushed prices for small and medium-sized launches to a fraction of the previous price.
But heavy and super-heavy launch vehicles have remained phenomenally expensive, as these physicist monsters are basically hard to build. While earning 10 tons in orbit is so cheap that startups can do it, 100 tons of revenue remains the territory of the global superpowers.
Falcon Heavy is truly the first to introduce a similar price shift for this category, costing a huge amount of large payloads. While an estimated price of around $ 100 million per launch is unlikely to be pocket money, it's a lot less than the $ 350 to $ 500 million a Delta IV could cost.
These savings can change a whole space program. NASA could add a full planetary exploration mission to its budget, which makes up for the difference in price of a launch alone. This math can not always add up (the excellent launch record of Delta IV is rightly a bonus), but you can not ignore that.
Those that are severely limited in supply. Governments and large corporations have been in a row for years to place important items in or out of orbit. SpaceX will sell space for Falcon Heavy systems as soon as possible. And because the page levels are reusable, they can be faster than others! It's a huge amount of money to earn while massively strengthening the global space community.
Falcon Heavy has little competition for payloads above the 50 tonne threshold, but below this range the field is becoming increasingly dense. ULA, Ariane Group, Russia and China, even its up-and-coming rival Blue Origin, are preparing cheaper next-generation platforms to participate in the new ecosystem. (Comprehensive reckoning of this new phase of launchers is rewarding, but for a different time.)
For the moment, however, Falcon Heavy is an anomaly, but a welcome one. Reducing the cost and complexity of more distant and ambitious space projects is an exciting prospect, and starting on Sunday is one of the first signs that we are seeing changes taking place.