SpaceX imitates von Braun

April 12, 2011

Artist's conception of the Falcon 9 Heavy

I’ve mentioned this before, but a recent article in SpaceFlight Now talks a bit more about the timeline SpaceX has planned for launching a Falcon 9 Heavy from Vandenberg.

Yup, from Vandenberg, in California, not from Florida, or from the South Pacific, which is where they were banished to for their first Falcon 1 tests. This beast is about half the size of a Saturn V, with twice the lift capacity of the Delta 4 Heavy or the Shuttle.

Yeah. Twice the lift capacity. A monster.

How? By using the same Merlin engines that power the other Falcon launch vehicles. This is the SpaceX-designed  engine, the first new liquid-fueled engine designed in decades. The first stage is three Falcon 9 cores. Each has 9 Merlin engines, so the first stage has 27 engines firing at once! Instead of designing a mega-sized engine like the F-1 that powered the first stage of the Saturn V, SpaceX has just imitated the thoughts of Wernher von Braun – use a lot of smaller engines.

Back in the 1950s, von Braun didn’t have the technologies to build high-pressure engines that would burn LOX and liquid hydrogen. instead, in designs like the ones he did for Disney and for Collier’s Magazine, he opted for less-powerful non-cryogenic propellants, like nitric acid and hydrazine, and up to 52 engines in the first stage!

One of von Braun's proto-shuttle designs from the 1950s



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