SpaceX company has many months and now becoming years pushing the launch date for the first Falcon Heavy. Yeah right space rocketry is tricky and very difficult, it's important that everything should be 100% safe. But all these delays looks to be a little bit exaggerated. It could be possible that they just don't need it for the moment, they can launch planned payloads for the customers even with the current Falcon 9 FT. Who knows, could be this or other reasons, engineering reasons.

Why so many delays?

  • $\begingroup$ Just a comment as I think this might be an "opinion" question. I would say there doesn't seem to be a need at this time for a heavy lift launcher. Commercial communications satellites can be launched on current systems, and nobody is building new space stations or operating manned flights to the Moon/Mars right now. So development doesn't need to be fast. $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Aug 31, 2016 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ The conventional wisdom is that they wanted to mature the F9 platform (both in terms of recovery and capability) before going full bore on the FH. Now they can take all the lessons learned from the F9 and apply them cleanly to the FH. I also wonder if the FH won't be an evolutionary dead end if and when they start flying the methalox Raptor-powered booster. $\endgroup$
    – John Bode
    Aug 31, 2016 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ The events of today can also be added as a reason for likely another pushback. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.H.
    Sep 1, 2016 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.H. Yes it is possible, mabye the end of the next year could be as a target, to have useful data since 2018 Red Dragon mission will be closer. $\endgroup$
    – D. Miller
    Sep 1, 2016 at 23:34

2 Answers 2


There are several likely reasons:

  1. Elon Musk likes to set absurdly optimistic deadlines to put pressure on everyone to achieve the impossible.
  2. With improvements to the Falcon 9 (100% increase in payload to LEO from v1.0 to v1.2/FT) the FH became less necessary.
  3. SpaceX needs its engineering resources elsewhere (Return to flight after the CRS-7 failure, First stage recovery).

The degree to which these 3 are responsible for the delays is guesswork, SpaceX hasn't said anything about it.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I've also seen the point thrown around that all structural changes of the F9 (some of which were done after the landing attempts to solve specific problems observed during them) need to be integrated into the FH as well and it might not always be straightforward since it's mostly but not completely three F9 booster cores strapped to each other. $\endgroup$
    – Joey
    Aug 31, 2016 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ I think a lot of it is #2. The FT Falcon 9 has covered most of the payloads that would have originally needed a FH. They have launched several large comms sats to GTO and even recovered the first stage on most of them. Those are some of the hardest launches that regularly occur currently. The improvements in the Falcon 9 have also improved the projected capabilities of the FH which has almost put it into an awkward no-mans land. It isn't big enough to replace the BFR for mars missions but is oversized for anything we currently launch with any regularity. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2016 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ I don't get the mindset of setting a deadline everyone knows cannot be met and working everyone like crazy to meet it. How can the workforce take it seriously? This may be one of the many reasons that I am not an internet billionaire. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2016 at 3:57

As noted by others, the payload of the Falcon 9 base has been increased, specifically its capability to GTO to handle all but the largest satellites.

The upper stage is not that great (Low Isp, where it matters in an upper stage) and cannot direct inject to GSO because of lack of ability to restart many hours later.

So the need for the Heavy keeps getting reduced.

But as much as anything else, each time they get closer, they end up revising the core vehicle (Falcon 9 1.0 to 1.1 to 1.2/Full Thrust, with a Fuller thrust coming sometime in 2016-2017) and this affects the Heavy design each time, causing at least some re-iteration. They may simply be waiting for the design to finally settle down on the F9 Fuller Thrust before actually building the cores for it. Gwynne Shotwell indicated at least one of the boosters was under construction in May 2016, so should be getting closer.


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