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Falcon Heavy engines
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket makes use of 27 Merlin engines arranged on three cores. (SpaceX via Elon Musk / Twitter)

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket just got more real, now that billionaire founder Elon Musk has tweeted out pictures of the triple-barreled launch vehicle.

The late-night tweet was accompanied by three views of the rocket cores being processed at SpaceX’s Florida facility in preparation for the rocket’s first test liftoff. That’s scheduled to take place next month from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

There was nary a sign of what’ll go on top of the rocket — a payload shroud that’s due to contain Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster sports car, set up to play David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on the sound system.

But Twitter fans were enchanted nevertheless by the sight of the triple-cored rocket, bristling with 27 Merlin engines at its bottom. “OMG” was a common reaction.

Falcon Heavy
An overhead view shows the Falcon Heavy’s three cores, each with the power equivalent to a Falcon 9 booster. The second stage on the center core is equipped with a single Merlin engine. (SpaceX via Elon Musk / Twitter)
Falcon Heavy
The Falcon Heavy is being processed at SpaceX’s Florida facility. (SpaceX via Elon Musk / Twitter)

When completed, the 230-foot-tall, two-stage rocket should be capable of launching up to 140,660 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit, or 37,000 pounds to Mars. SpaceX notes that only the Saturn V rocket, last launched in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit.

The Falcon Heavy launch system is also designed to fly back each of the rocket cores to a landing for recovery and reuse. For this launch, SpaceX will be using a recycled (“flight-proven”) and modified Falcon 9 booster on each side, and a reinforced virgin core in the center.

The rocket’s maiden launch should be quite a spectacle, whether it’s a success or failure. When Musk discussed the Falcon Heavy back in July, he wasn’t sure which it would be.

“That requires the simultaneous ignition of 27 orbit-class engines. There’s a lot that could go wrong there,” Musk said. “I encourage people to come down to the Cape and see the first Falcon Heavy mission. It’s guaranteed to be exciting.”

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