Falcon 9 rocket for SpaceX Demo Flight-1 set for test fire
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — While the U.S. government might be shut down due to a political impasse, Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX is taking the next steps toward returning the U.S.’ lost ability to send astronauts into low-Earth orbit.
One of the final, and most critical, milestones of every Falcon 9 (F9) flight is the static test fire where the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines are activated while the launcher is still firmly affixed to the pad. The F9 tasked with sending the first Crew Dragon capsule to orbit is being readied for test which could take place as early as Wednesday, Jan. 23 at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.
SpaceX likes to keep things close to its vest, with reports varying as to what time the test will be carried out. Most seem to suggest that the test fire will take place between 2 and 7 p.m. EST.
Under the $2.6 billion contract that SpaceX was awarded by NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX has a series of tests it must complete. The company has already demonstrated its pad launch abort capabilities (on May 6, 2015) as well as other aspects of its crew-rated capabilities.
As of now, a hard date for Demo Flight-1 has not been confirmed. A new target date could be announced, after coordination with the Eastern Range and the International Space Station Program.
On Jan. 5 SpaceX’s CEO, Founder and Chief Rocket Designer, Elon Musk tweeted that the flight was about a month away. NASA appeared to confirm the time frame the billionaire suggested in the agency’s Commercial Crew Program blog five days later on Jan. 10.
At present, the timeline of testing for Crew Dragon is as follows: February 2019 Demo Flight-1, May 2019, In Flight Abort Test, June 2019 Demo Flight-2 (a crewed test flight with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken) with the first full, operational mission (USCV-1 with NASA astronauts Michael S. Hopkins and Victor Glover) slated to take place about a month later in August.
NASA has been unable to launch astronauts on its own since the close of the Space Shuttle Program back in July of 2011. After a drought of eight years the agency is likely eager to see this capability at least partially restored. NASA will not own the spacecraft that astronauts would use to travel to-and-from the International Space Station under the Commercial Crew Program. Rather, Crew Dragon and Starliner would remain the property of SpaceX and Boeing (respectively).
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.