Largest ever rocket assembled as SpaceX sets sights on Mars

America’s SpaceX company has assembled the largest rocket ever constructed for space travel as it prepares for its inaugural flight next month.

Standing some 120m (400ft) tall, the SpaceX rocket dwarfs any previous launch system, and when it eventually lifts off, will produce about twice the thrust of the vehicles that sent men to the Moon.

Indeed, the main engines on Apollo’s famous Saturn V rockets delivered some 35 meganewtons (nearly 8 million pounds of force) off the pad. By comparison, the new SpaceX Super Heavy booster should achieve around 70 meganewtons.

Measuring 70m (230ft) -long, Super Heavy will be filled with 3,400 tonnes (6.8 million lbs) of cryogenic (chilled) methalox.

It will be powered by around 32 Raptor engines (this specification has changed several times) and should achieve more than 70 Meganewtons (16 million lbs) of maximum thrust. It should be able to lift at least 100 tonnes of payload, and possibly as much as 150 tonnes, to low-Earth orbit.

This will make Super Heavy more powerful than the immense Saturn V launcher used for the Apollo Moon missions in the 1960s and 70s.

The inaugural flight will see the booster propel the Starship upper module into space for a once-around-the-Earth trip, which will end with a disposal “landing” in waters off the Hawaiian islands in the Pacific. The booster section of the rocket, the Super Heavy, will be ditched in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ultimately, though, SpaceX wants both segments of future vehicles to make controlled touchdowns, on land or on sea platforms, so they can be re-used.

Company CEO, Elon Musk, claims the Starship system, once fully developed, will be more than capable of taking humans to the Moon and Mars.

The American space agency, Nasa, has already contracted SpaceX to produce a version of the Starship upper-stage that can land astronauts near the lunar south pole this decade.

Musk has often spoken about his dream of building cities on Mars. He believes that settlements would need large numbers of people in order to become self-sustaining.

pic: space.com (Elon Musk via twitter)

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