Before SpaceX heads out on its Mars mission, it is busy preparing to launch the world's most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy (FH) rocket or Falcon 9 Heavy rocket, on its first flight.
The launch, which will take place in the first few months of 2017, will prove to NASA if SpaceX is ready to rock and roll with the big boys, when it comes to space exploration.
The Falcon 9 spacecraft was originally meant to be launched in September of 2016, but ended up exploding during a static fire test at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Back in 2011, the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, stated that this rocket would be capable of carrying heavier loads of cargo and more passengers to the moon or even Mars.
This rocket also possesses the second-highest escape velocity (the minimum speed required by a vehicle to escape the gravitational force of an object or planet) than any other space vehicle in history, after only the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo Program ended in 1972. The Saturn V was the foundation on which the first manned flight in 1968 was laid.
According to Musk, the FH will open the door to numerous other space missions, both commercial and governmental.
The Falcon Heavy rocket has a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) cargo load of about 54.4 tons and a full thrust load of 22.8 tons, thanks to its 27 Merlin engines, which makes it a truly super-heavy-lift spacecraft.
"The key to making humanity a space-faring civilization is to develop a sustainable and reusable rocket technology that will lessen the cost of space travel," Musk told The Observer.
Musk aims at scheduling SpaceX's first manned mission to Mars in the late 2020s, even before NASA launches its own mission in the mid-2030s.
"Essentially what we're saying is we're establishing a cargo route to Mars," Musk told The Washington Post in an interview.
"It's a regular cargo route...It's going to happen every 26 months. Like a train leaving the station. And if scientists around the world know that they can count on that, and it's going to be inexpensive, relatively-speaking, compared to anything in the past, then they will plan accordingly and come up with a lot of great experiments," Musk added.
A SpaceX spokesperson revealed that the company is aiming to launch the first FH flight in the first-half of 2017, but the company has yet to decide on the payload or whether it will carry passengers.
After its first flight, this heavy lift rocket will be utilised to launch giant government satellites and customer payloads, scheduled around spring. This launch is likely to take place before the first launch of the Red Dragon, slated for the beginning of 2018.
SpaceX's Dragon 2 capsules will be part of SpaceX's first Mars mission to land a low-cost lander on the Red Planet using the Falcon heavy rocket, a mission which NASA will be monitoring closely and supplying techinical support for.
The head of NASA's Planetary Science Division, Jim Green, said that NASA would wait till SpaceX proved its ability to carry out a soft landing on Mars' surface, prior to handing over equipment worth millions to the Red Dragon mission, Space.com reported.