US co. SpaceX to build heavy-lift, low-cost rocket

* Rocket could cut cost of space travel

* Has twice lift-capacity of the space shuttle

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 5 (Reuters) – Space Exploration
Technologies is building a rocket with twice the lift capacity
of NASA’s space shuttle that will also cut launch costs, the
company’s chief executive said on Tuesday.

The new booster, called Falcon Heavy, is based on the
company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has made two successful
flights and which NASA has purchased to fly cargo to the
International Space Station after the shuttle program ends this
summer.

A test flight of Falcon Heavy is planned for 2013 from
Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Elon Musk told
reporters in a news conference broadcast over the Internet.

Falcon Heavy can put about 117,000 pounds (53,071 kg) into
orbit, twice the shuttle’s 50,000-pound (22,680-kg) lift
capability.

Flights also would take place from the company’s launch
complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and
possibly from nearby Kennedy Space Center, which is soliciting
proposals from companies and agencies interested in taking over
the space shuttle’s launch pads.

The shuttle program is ending after two more flights
because of high costs and to free up funds to develop rockets
that can travel beyond the space station’s 220-mile (354-km)
high orbit.

With a price tag of about $100 million per launch, Falcon
Heavy is about half the price of existing heavy-lift U.S.
rockets built by Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Lockheed Martin Corp
(LMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research).

“I think we can realistically start to contemplate missions
like a Mars sample return, which requires a tremendous amount
of lift capability because you have to send a lander to Mars
that still has enough propellant to return to Earth,” Musk
said. “If you try to do a mission like that with a smaller
vehicle, you have to have several launches and either do
orbital rendezvous or do some sort of much more complex
mission.”

Currently, it costs about $10,000 per pound to reach orbit.
Falcon Heavy would cut that price to about $1,000 per pound,
Musk said.

“We’re very, very confident of being able to maintain those
prices,” said Musk, co-founder of PayPal and chairman and chief
executive of electric car maker Tesla Motors.

Falcon Heavy, like Falcon 9, has been designed to meet
NASA’s requirements for human space vehicles, Musk said.

He said the company, based in Hawthorne, California, was
ramping up for mass production of its proprietary Merlin
engine, which powers the Falcon rocket family.
(Editing by Tom Brown)

US co. SpaceX to build heavy-lift, low-cost rocket