SpaceX shares an image of Falcon Heavy's 27 Merlin engines ahead of launch

The world's most powerful operational rocket could finally launch again as soon as next week.
Chris Young
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy boosters.
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy boosters.

SpaceX / Twitter 

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in the world, is approaching its first launch in over three years.

The massive launch system, which is powered by three modified Falcon 9 first-stage boosters, is now linked together and awaiting launch from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Ahead of the launch, SpaceX has shared an image of the behemoth's 27 Merlin engines on Twitter. "Falcon Heavy in the hangar at Launch Complex 39A," the company wrote alongside the impressive photo.

SpaceX readies Falcon Heavy for launch

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy straps together three modified Falcon 9 rockets — the class used to carry Starlink satellites into orbit, humans to the International Space Station, and a number of scientific, communications, and military payloads. It also has a second stage connected to the central booster that deploys the mission payload in orbit.

Only two of those Falcon 9's will come down for a signature SpaceX booster landing, as the central booster will deorbit and land in the sea after carrying that second stage into orbit.

The Falcon Heavy's 27 Merlin engines generate approximately 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, making it the world's most powerful operational rocket. SpaceX is, of course, also working on its fully reusable Mars-bound Starship rocket, which is expected to generate a staggering 17 million pounds of thrust thanks to 33 next-generation Raptor engines.

For now though, Falcon Heavy is the world's "most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two," SpaceX says on its website. The massive launch system is capable of lifting almost 64 metric tons (141,000 lb) into orbit.

Is Falcon Heavy SpaceX's unsung hero?

The Falcon Heavy at Pad 39A will be used for USSF-44, a mission that will launch two satellites into a geostationary orbit for the U.S. Space Force. Though the launch date has not been officially announced, it is expected to fly at some point over the coming week or in early November.

SpaceX's massive Falcon Heavy is arguably a little unrecognized and sidelined in the conversation of SpaceX's greatest achievements. This may be surprising to some considering it's the company's most powerful operational rocket. However, that's likely because it simply hasn't taken to the skies very often when compared with SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket — the company currently breaks its launch record for a year with every successful Falcon 9 launch.

SpaceX shares an image of Falcon Heavy's 27 Merlin engines ahead of launch
Two Falcon 9 boosters landing side by side after Falcon Heavy's first launch.

Source: SpaceX / Flickr 

USSF-44 will be the first Falcon Heavy launch since June 2019 — due to a string of payload delays exacerbated by the pandemic — and it will only be the fourth launch in the rocket's history. The launch system's first flight in February 2018 famously sent Elon Musk's Tesla roadster into space alongside a mannequin wearing a spacesuit, endearingly named Starman. Only eight minutes after the launch of that mission, SpaceX landed two boosters simultaneously for the first time at adjacent landing pads at Cape Canaveral.

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