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How SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy could enable fantastic Science in the outer solar system

Democratizing access to Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and beyond.

Falcon Heavy launch by SpaceX. Source: John Kraus.
Maximum payload to Low-Earth Orbit:
1. Falcon Heavy (SpaceX) = 63,800 kg
2. Delta IV Heavy (ULA) = 28,790 kg
3. Long March 5 (China) = 25,000 kg
4. Falcon 9 Full Thrust (SpaceX) = 22,800 kg
(Full comparison of all rockets here)
SpaceX Falcon Heavy at the launchpad. Source: SpaceX

A Pluto orbiter and a flyby of Eris

New Horizons spacecraft view of Pluto’s rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plain. The multiple layers of haze of Pluto’s atmosphere are also seen. Source: NASA
Launch of New Horizons. The Atlas V rocket on the launchpad (left) and lift off from Cape Canaveral (right). Sources: Wikipedia (1 and 2)

Orbiting the ice giants — Uranus and Neptune

The unusual magnetic field of Uranus, as determined by Voyager 2 during the 1986 flyby. Source: Wikipedia
Global color mosaic of Neptune’s moon Triton taken using the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989. Source: NASA. Caption: Me.
A histogram showing the number of exoplanets discovered by each type. The blue bars represent previously verified exoplanets and the orange bars represent Kepler’s newly verified planets as of May 2016. Source: Wikipedia

Light and fast

Exploring the moons of Jupiter and Saturn

An artist’s illustration showing the internal structure of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Beneath the thick ice covering, likely lies an ocean of liquid water caused by the tidal heating effects of Jupiter’s gravity. Source: Source: NASA
An artists’ rendering of NASA’s upcoming mission Europa Clipper passing by Jupiter’s moon Europa. Source: NASA

Cheap and repeatable

Falcon Heavy side boosters landing on landing areas LZ1 and LZ2. Source: SpaceX


If you have been falling in love with images of Jupiter and Saturn from Juno and Cassini respectively, you will fall in love with years worth of outer solar system imagery that the Falcon Heavy can enable.



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Jatan Mehta

Space and Moon exploration writer ~ Contributing Editor, The Planetary Society ~ Thinker | Website: