Falcon 9 engines ignite briefly in hotfire test days before CRS-11 mission
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — Just a day before Memorial Day, SpaceX performed its customary static fire test on a Falcon 9 slated to send the CRS-11 Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. The test took place at noon EDT (16:00 GMT), May 28, 2017, at Launch Complex 39A. The several-second ignition, as well as the following planned abort, was soon confirmed by SpaceX via its Twitter account.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 28, 2017
SpaceX performs these tests several days before every mission to ensure all is functioning properly with the Falcon 9 rocket. The procedure involves fueling both stages of the 230-foot (70-meter) tall booster with liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (RP-1). The launch team then performs a countdown just like would be done on launch day.
A few seconds before the countdown reached zero, the nine Merlin 1D engines on the first stage, core 1035, ignited and spooled up to full power. After a few seconds of white smoke billowing out and away from the flame trench, the engines were cut off.
Next, the company will return the vehicle to the horizontal position. It will then be rolled back to its horizontal integration hangar just outside of the pad’s perimeter fence. From there, assuming the company determines all went well with the test, the CRS-11 Dragon capsule will be attached.
The CRS-11 mission
The capsule, which will be the first re-flight for a Dragon pressure vessel (this one first flew during CRS-4 in 2014), is set to be launched toward the space station at 5:55 p.m. EDT (21:55 GMT), June 1, 2017. CRS-11 is carrying with it some 3,800 pounds (1,700 kilograms) of pressurized and 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms) of unpressurized cargo.
The first stage, after detaching from the second stage about 2 minutes into the flight, will separate and return back to Cape Canaveral. Core 1035 will then make a powered landing at Landing Zone 1, several miles south of LC-39A.
On June 4, just over three days after the planned launch, the capsule will rendezvous with the outpost. A member of the Expedition 51 crew will then use the robotic Canadarm2 to capture the spacecraft. It will be berthed to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.
This will be the second time a Dragon capsule is at the space station at the same time as an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft. The S.S. John Glenn, as it is named, has been at the outpost attached to the Unity module since April 22 and will leave in early July, just before CRS-11 is set to depart.
The test didn’t go off perfectly, with Click Orlando reporting that a wildfire at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge was sparked by the static test fire.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.