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April 01, 2011

SpaceX's YouTube Tease for its Falcon Heavy Rocket

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Upstart SpaceX (News - Alert) is going viral to promote the April 5 announcement of its latest rocket, leveraging YouTube and Twitter to generate some buzz. 

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SpaceX posted the "Something Big Is Coming" video yesterday on its YouTube (News - Alert) channel . In less than a day, the 30 second clip has already garnered over 11,000 views –not record breaking numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but the clip already is the most-viewed out of company's YouTube library. A follow-up plug for the video was dropped on Twitter through the company's SpaceXer account today.

The video starts with a montage of SpaceX's accomplishments with macho-heavy theme music, including the Falcon 1 light rocket, the Falcon 9 medium rocket, the Dragon space capsule, followed by the appearances of the text "five NEW engines, two NEW rockets, one NEW spacecraft, at a FRACTION of the Cost...What's next?" followed by another quick montage of SpaceX rockets hurtling skyward and a cut to a black screen with white lettering announcing "SOMETHING BIG IS COMING 04.05.11."

A blur of images fill the last five seconds of the video, including a black-on-white outline of a rocket with two strap-on boosters and a big payload container, a jump to a row of small and large engine symbols, the appearance of a "FH" logo, followed by the fade in of the SpaceX logo.

SpaceX has previously spoken about its desire to build the Falcon Heavy and a family of heavy/heavier left vehicles. The company has detailed specification of a "Falcon Heavy" vehicles on its website consisting of a standard Falcon 9 with a pair of strap-on Falcon 9 first stages as liquid strap-ons. As detailed, the Falcon Heavy is capable of putting over 32,000 kilograms to low earth orbit (LEO) and over 19,500 kilograms into geostationary orbit. SpaceX has a list price of $95 million for a mission, with "modest discounts" available for a multi-launch purchase.

So if details of Falcon Heavy are already on the website, exactly what will be announced on April 5? One possibility is an actual customer announcement for a Falcon Heavy launch. A more intriguing possibility might be the formal launch for building SpaceX's Merlin 2 engine, a key component for the Falcon X and XX heavy launcher as described in an Aviation Week piece last year.

The Falcon X would use three Merlin 2s to put 38,000 kilograms into LEO while the monster Falcon XX would use six engines in a single core and be capable of putting 140,000 kilograms into LEO, according to the Aviation Week piece.

I suspect SpaceX is making the announcement next week for two reasons. The National Space Symposium is taking place on April 11-14, 2011, so getting the news out now will bring plenty of people over to the SpaceX booth. In addition, with NASA's budget under cost-cutting pressure, SpaceX is positioned to offer a cost-effective alternative for building a heavy lift launcher.

Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee