06 June 2016
Interestingly, SpaceX has de-signed the Falcon Heavy with the idea of eventually using the vehicle to carry humans to the Moon and even to Mars. The company is planning a series of unmanned missions to Mars, using its Red Dragon landing capsule, beginning in 2018. The rocket meets NASA’s human rating standards, which would place it in a position to make the space agency seriously question the need to continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop its Space Launch System (SLS)—a rocket that would cost at least $500 million per launch (about the same as the Space Shuttle), compared to less than half that amount for a Falcon Heavy.
We understand that, in addition to the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX is looking to launch a second test flight from Cape Canaveral. That would give the vehicle one launch from the East coast of the United States and one from the West. In other words, for the two different orbit destinations— geosynchronous and low earth Sun-synchronous. Assuming the two flights are successful, or at least the second one, the Falcon Heavy would launch the 5,000+ kg STP-2, or ISAT (Innovative Space-based radar Antenna Technology), technology development satellite for the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate. That launch would occur by 2017. The STP-2 mission would help certify the Falcon Heavy for launching EELV (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) pay-loads for the Air Force. The smaller Falcon 9 v1.1 has completed its EELV certification process.
Additionally, SpaceX has received a contract from Intelsat to launch one of its large telecom-munications satellites to geostationary orbit sometime in 2016¬2017. It is this willingness to go after and win both government and commercial launch contracts that is perhaps the key to SpaceX’s ability to offer its Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets at prices that se¬verely undercut competing American vehicles such as the Atlas V and Delta IV. An ex¬tremely diverse customer base and high volume seem to be what distinguishes the Falcon program from others. SpaceX has not only managed to win a lot of launch contracts from agencies, companies, consorti¬ums, laboratories, universities in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and the Netherlands in a relatively short period of time, it has done so within four completely different markets—civil, commercial, mil¬itary, and university/non-profit.