SpaceX, the rocket-making company led by famed entrepreneur Elon Musk, has been promising “big news” today, and it delivered by announcing the details of the Falcon Heavy, which it describes as the world’s most powerful rocket.

The Heavy will be able to carry satellites or spacecraft weighing more than 117,000 pounds into orbit, — making it twice as powerful as competing vehicles and more powerful than any vehicle in history except the Saturn V moon rocket, SpaceX says. The company also promises that the Falcon Heavy will arrive at the Vandenberg Air Force base in California facility before the end of the year, with a demo launch coming soon afterward.

SpaceX is apparently hoping the new rocket’s power and relatively low cost ($80 million to $125 million) will attract the Air Force for its communication and and spy satellite launches. The Air Force’s 2012 budget includes four launches at an average cost of $435 million, SpaceX says.

“”The Air Force has expressed interest,” Musk said today. “I’m very confident that we will have a deal by the time of the Falcon Heavy demo flight.”

This is all very impressive, though it’s probably worth bearing in mind that a number of people, including my recently-departed boss Owen Thomas, have criticized Musk for getting a bit ahead of reality when talking up his companies and achievements.

Musk, who previously led PayPal and Zip2, and who is also the CEO of electric car company Tesla Motors, isn’t the only Internet executive interested in space travel. Barney Pell, the chief architect of Microsoft’s Bing search engine, just joined a moon lander company called Moon Express.

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