What's next for SpaceX after its successful Falcon Heavy flight?

What's next for SpaceX after its successful Falcon Heavy flight?
From Engadget - February 7, 2018

This is a huge milestone for SpaceX. The question now is: What's next?

There were a lot of expectations pinned on this rocket, if not this specific launch. It would have been disappointing (rather than catastrophic) if the rocket had failed; SpaceX could have attempted another Falcon Heavy launch in another few months, assuming the launch pad survived. It was a test flight, not a make-or-break launch. But it was crucial for what's to come.

With the successful Falcon Heavy maiden voyage, SpaceX has proven that it's capable of lifting massive cargo into orbit. The rocket is, after all, now the biggest and most powerful operational rocket in the world. It's second only to the Saturn V rockets of the Apollo era in terms of lift power to low Earth orbit (though the Space Shuttles had more thrust power at launch).

This means that SpaceX now has a launch vehicle capable of lifting over twice the payload of any other operational rocket. But right now, the Falcon Heavy only has a few additional launches scheduled. Customers include a Saudi Arabian communications satellite, the US Air Force and a test of solar sail technology from The Planetary Society. However, as NASA's own behemoth rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) continually overruns budgets and is delayed, it's conceivable the organization could turn to SpaceX for its heavy-lift needs. Additionally, now that SpaceX has proven the Falcon Heavy works, it will encourage more customers to book launches.

The Falcon Heavy's low price is another mark in its favor. While there is not a lot of transparency around how much the rocket launches cost, it's clear that SpaceX is generally priced lower than its competitors. Last year, Ars Technica analyzed a 2014 GAO (Government Accountability Office) report for the cost estimates for launches with rival ULA (United Launch Alliance), and came up with a predicted $422 million per launch. In comparison, the Falcon Heavy (which can lift significantly heavier payloads to low Earth orbit) is advertised at $90 million per launch on SpaceX's website. Additionally, on the post-launch press call, Elon Musk stated that the Falcon Heavy project's total cost was about $500 million. The cost of NASA's SLS, when all is said and done, will be about $1 billion -- per launch.

But SpaceX is not stopping with the Falcon Heavy. On the pre- and post-launch press call, it was clear that while Musk was excited about the Falcon Heavy, he had already turned his attention to something bigger: the BFR (or Big Fucking Rocket).

"I was looking at Falcon Heavy, and thought it's a bit small," Elon Musk said on the pre-launch press call.

Musk surprised reporters when he revealed that the Falcon Heavy would likely not be human-rated (certified to carry people). Instead, development on BFR has been going so well that the company now envisions skipping human-rating the Heavy entirely.


Continue reading at Engadget »