For anyone who may not know it, I’m NOT a SpaceX fanboy, or an Elon Musk zealot- not by any stretch of the imagination. The big Hollywood style Dragon 2.0 unveil and the testimony in front of the Congress with the launch dates that could never be kept, the crowd of cheerleaders at SpX headquarters for each launch and the Tesla payload publicity stunt didn’t impress me at all. So, you may ask, do I think the Falcon 9 Heavy will fly?
There may be a few scrubs and perhaps a delay or even a rollback, but I think that the big bird will quite likely fly and may actually complete its planned profile. Normally, in modern times as rocketry has grown up, it is a pretty good bet that the first launch of a new vehicle will be successful. I’m sure that the staff at SpX has looked carefully at every little detail and they are highly confident that this new configuration will indeed fly successfully.
Keep in mind also that the catastrophic Falcon 9 failures of the past involved the second stage and not the first stage. Now SpX has taken 3 of those pretty reliable first stages and strapped them together. Additionally, even though there are a lot of engines burning at once- the vehicle is NOT the N-1. This one has been fired on a test stand which was a luxury that the Soviets never had with the N-1. Nearly all of the N-1’s shortcomings would have shown up in a static firing. This is also NOT a Saturn V. Comparing the Saturn V to the Falcon 9 Heavy, as some have tried to do, isn’t comparing apples to oranges… it’s comparing apples to a grape.
The time when the glitches turn into bitches comes not in the first flight, but in subsequent flights. It comes when corners are cut, schedule pressures get high, management over rules engineering and the faults of sub contractors find their way into tiny little parts. So the time to watch for the fireball that is three times larger than any that SpX has made before, probably won’t be tomorrow.
If it is, however, let’s hope it’s far enough out to sea so that any of the pieces over about 8 pounds won’t make as far as the Saturn V Center where they can actually do some damage.