Elon Musk isn't usually one to understate his products' capabilities, but it seems the SpaceX team was a bit conservative with its payload predictions for the Falcon spacecraft. Updates published online have revealed the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy will be able to carry much more than we first thought into low-earth orbit.
According to updated information published on the SpaceX website, the Falcon 9 rocket will actually be capable of carrying 22,800 kg (50,265 lb) into low earth orbit, up from the 13,150 kg (28,990 lb) previously stated. The Falcon Heavy has also been given an increased payload for missions to low-earth orbit, jumping by 1,300 kg (3,085 lb) to 54,400 kg (119,930 lb).
It is worth keeping in mind these figures are only applicable to expendable rockets, and payloads for reusable versions will be 30 to 40 percent less. In spite of the big increases, Elon Musk says no changes have been made to the engine. Instead, the increased payload capacities came about because the Merlin engines are proving tougher than first expected in testing, allowing the team to increase launch thrust.
Trawling through Twitter – Musk's preferred medium for breaking news – reveals the Falcon 9 will launch with 1.71 million lbf (7,607 kN) of thrust, while the Falcon Heavy will generate 5.13 million lbf (22,819 kN) at launch. That, according to Musk, is twice the amount generated by any rocket currently flying.
The changes come after the company annouced it wants to launch an unmanned Mars lander in 2018, or four years earlier than initially planned.