SpaceX has announced that major communications satellite operator Intelsat is the first customer for its Falcon 9 Heavy, essentially three-core, 27-engine version of the Falcon 9 rocket capable of launching up to 53,000kg into Earth orbit.

"SpaceX is very proud to have the confidence of Intelsat," says Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX. "The Falcon Heavy has more than twice the power of the next largest rocket in the world. With this new vehicle, SpaceX launch systems now cover the entire spectrum of the launch needs for commercial, civil and national security customers."

The first launch pad for the Heavy is under construction at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, the preferred site for polar-orbit launches. The company also hopes to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, from which the Falcon 9 currently flies.

Intelsat notes that the timing and launch site are still under discussion but that the launch will not take place from Vandenberg AFB, which will be the site of the first Falcon 9 Heavy launch in mid-2013. This suggests that the flight will likely take place at either SpaceX's facilities at KSC or a new launch site in Brownsville, Texas, after 2013 because there are no other Falcon 9 Heavy pads that are near completion.

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"Intelsat has exacting technical standards and requirements for proven flight heritage for our satellite launches," says Intelsat chief technology officer Thierry Guillemin. "We will work closely with SpaceX as the Falcon Heavy completes rigorous flight tests prior to our future launch requirements."

Intelsat declined to share additional details, citing ongoing negotiations. SpaceX was unable to respond to immediate questions.

Source: Flight International