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Updated: April 6, 2011 09:35 IST

Private company plans world’s largest rocket

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An artist rendering shows SpaceX's new rocket Falcon Heavy. Photo: AP
AP An artist rendering shows SpaceX's new rocket Falcon Heavy. Photo: AP

The Falcon Heavy rocket would be the most powerful since the Saturn V rockets, used to carry astronauts to the moon in the 1960s

A U.S. company is developing a rocket that would be the most powerful now available and could carry twice as much into orbit as the space shuttle, its chief executive said Tuesday.

The Falcon Heavy rocket would be the most powerful since the Saturn V rockets used to carry astronauts to the moon in the 1960s, said Elon Musk, chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies, also known as Space X.

It would be able to carry some 53 metric tons into space, more than twice the shuttle’s capacity and that of the next most powerful rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy.

“This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial missions,” he told reporters.

The rocket could be ready to launch by 2013 and would be far more cost effective than existing means of getting cargo into space, Musk said. The Falcon Heavy is expected to cost between 80 million and 125 million dollars, or about 1,000 dollars per pound to orbit, he said.

Space X is counting on NASA’s move toward partnering with commercial space flight providers to bring cargo and eventually humans into space for routine missions.

Last year, the company became the first commercial venture to launch a re-useable spacecraft into orbit and then safely re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. That test involved a Falcon 9 rocket carrying an empty Dragon space capsule, which spent 3 hours and 20 minutes aloft and orbited the Earth twice.

The Falcon Heavy would first be focussed on taking cargo into space, but will be designed to meet safety requirements for carrying astronauts.

NASA is to retire its ageing fleet of space shuttles later this year and plans to use commercial providers to deliver goods to the space station under its Commercial Orbital Transportation Service (COTS) programme.

Space X has been contracted to make at least 12 supply flights to the station. Orbital Sciences Corporation is also to fly cargo to the station for NASA.

After the shuttle is retired, U.S. astronauts will rely on Russian Soyuz craft for lifts to the station until commercial providers are approved to operate “space taxis” for routine travel to the ISS. NASA plans to focus its own efforts on developing a heavy-lift rocket with enough power to get humans to Mars or other far away destinations.

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