It’s looking like 2015 will be a kick-start year for burgeoning space enterprise. Right now at SpaceX in California, the fledgling spaceflight company is building a bulging muscle rocket, called the Falcon Heavy, despite having no published manifest or apparent destination.
The payload capacity (over 53 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit) is way too macho for conventional satellites but they obviously have something big planed for Falcon Heavy.
SpaceX is run by compulsive entrepreneur Elon Musk, a complicated character whose faith is simple: Risk all for progress. Through SpaceX he plans to open the high frontier to commerce, making space transport as easy as air travel. Given his MO, there seems little doubt that Musk views the Falcon Heavy demo flight, which is slated for early next year, as a huge opportunity to advance this cause. The payload is completely confidential but a great deal can be inferred from work going on in the background.
Elon Musk stated in a Forbes interview:
“It would be more significant to have a base on the Moon, rather than just going back.”
Just to think about landing on the Moon would make even today’s engineers shudder. However, SpaceX will shortly begin testing a landing vehicle, called Dragonfly, at their McGregor, TX facility. Technically, all they need now is some kind of structure to make a lunar base possible.
Meanwhile, Bigelow Aerospace, a company that builds commercial space habitats, has asked the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a license “to place a Bigelow habitat on the surface of the Moon.” Interestingly, Bigelow’s standard habitat, the BA330 module, weighs in at a cool 20 tonnes – which fits snugly within the Falcon Heavy’s payload profile. SpaceX would certainly welcome a high profile payload for their upcoming Falcon Heavy test and likely offer a steep discount for first flights. Though details are obscure, Bigelow is known to retain a reservation with SpaceX for an unspecified launch in 2015.
At the end of the day, Bigelow may easily decide having a habitat in Earth orbit is far enough, rather than risk a more adventurous lunar orbit or landing. One thing’s for sure: whatever screams skyward on the first Falcon Heavy flight next spring – will be huge.
Image Sources: Universe Today, Twitter