Falcon 9 static fire test performed at LC-39A
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Launch Complex 39A roared to life for the first time since the end of the Space Shuttle era, albeit for only a few seconds, as SpaceX conducted a static fire test of its Falcon 9 rocket.
At 4:30 p.m EST (21:30 GMT) Feb. 12, 2017, the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D engines ignited to ensure everything was operating as expected before the next week’s planned launch of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 10 mission to the International Space Station.
The test involved a full countdown and fueling of the rocket. When the engines ignited, they fired a short 3.5-second burst before the flight computer automatically commanded an abort. SpaceX engineers will now pore over the data over the coming days to ensure all is well on the booster.
Liftoff for the CRS-10 mission is scheduled for 10:01 a.m. EST (15:01 GMT) Feb. 18. This will be the first launch from the complex since the final Space Shuttle mission, STS-135 in July 2011.
Once in orbit, the CRS-10 Dragon capsule will take about two days to reach the outpost. It will deliver 4,473 pounds (2,029 kilograms) of pressurized and 2,154 pounds (977 kilograms) of unpressurized cargo.
About nine minutes after liftoff, the first stage of the Falcon 9, after detaching from the second stage and its payload, will return back to nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1.
This will be the third time one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stages will attempt a ground landing, rather than on a drone ship at sea. It will also be the first ground landing during daylight hours.
When CRS-10 does get off the ground, it will be the first East Coast launch since the Sept. 1, 2016, explosion in the minutes before a static fire test. The explosion destroyed the rocket and Amos 6 satellite it was carrying. Additionally, it severely damaged Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), which is just south of LC-39A.
SpaceX has since resolved the issue that caused the accident and returned the Falcon 9 to flight. That launch, the Iridium-1 mission, took to the skies Jan. 14, 2017, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
After CRS-10, SpaceX will launch one of its last expendable Falcon 9 rockets when it sends the EchoStar 23 communications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit. That mission currently has a no-earlier-than launch date of Feb. 28.
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.