As Eric Berger notes in Ars Technica, SpaceX is teasing the long-awaited and often-delayed advent of the Falcon Heavy, a rocket capable of sending 54 metric tons to low Earth orbit, with an Instagram photo of a piece of hardware. The rocket, which uses 27 engines working in tandem in the first stage, should be partly reusable, if it works, and thus far cheaper to operate than the much more powerful Space Launch System.

If the Falcon Heavy finally flies in 2017 and if the first stage, one core, and two strap-ons, it will be one development the next year that may point America back to the moon. 2017 will also be the year, it is hoped, that one or more of the Google Lunar X Prize competitors successfully lands on the moon. President Elect Trump has indicated that he is interested in landing a man on the moon.

The scenario involves Trump’s NASA starting to turn its attention back to the moon, seeking commercial and international partners.

The Falcon Heavy and similar rockets, such as the upcoming Blue Origin New Glenn and New Armstrong, would start launching robots to start prospecting the moon for its resources and building habitats and infrastructure for astronauts to follow, using landers provided by such companies as Moon Express and Astrobotic.

Despite the fact that the Space Launch System will be expensive to operate, it is not likely to be canceled for both practical and political purposes.

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But if Trump follows the pattern set with the new Air Force One and the F-35 fighter, he may strong arm the contractors to find a way to make the super heavy space launcher cheaper to build and operate.

Fast forward to 2021, the earliest year that the SLS will take an Orion spacecraft on a deep space mission to Lunar Orbit. That mission would test hardware much like the flight of Apollo 8 did for the original moon landing.

Then, in 2022, 50 years since the last moon landing, another Orion will take a crew into lunar orbit. A commercial rocket such as Falcon Heavy would send a commercial lander to rendezvous and dock with the Orion, transferring the crew and sending it to the first crewed landing on the moon in decades. History will be made, and a new epoch in space exploration will have begun.

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