SpaceX Falcon Heavy warms up LC-39A during static test fire
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — This afternoon, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time, SpaceX static-fired all 27 of the engines on its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. Live video on NASASpaceflight.com shows that the rocket fired for at least 10 seconds. This test indicates SpaceX is moving closer to a launch date for its new heavy-lift vehicle.
Better late than never
The test of Falcon Heavy’s kerosene/liquid oxygen engines produced an impressive roar and column of smoke over Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. This was the most thrust fired at the pad since Space Shuttle Atlantis conducted the final flight of the Shuttle Program in July of 2011. The ten-second test provided just enough time for SpaceX to verify that it could fire all 27 engines safely without lifting off.
Falcon Heavy’s first launch has been a source of some speculation since the vehicle was first announced. The Hawthorne, California-based company has focused on its Falcon 9 rocket and its growing launch manifest, working through teething problems along the way. The loss of a Falcon 9 during a static test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in September 2016 and the subsequent refurbishment of that pad likely impacted the Falcon Heavy schedule as well. Even before that, SpaceX lost the CRS-7 Dragon spacecraft in 2015 during its flight to the International Space Station.
The anticipated launch date shifted from mid-January to late January to now likely sometime in February. As the company is tight-lipped about much of its activities compared to other launch service providers, speculation has been that these delays might have occurred due to an abundance of caution. Nevertheless, the rocket was raised into a vertical position at Launch Complex 39A on December 28. Potential static tests slated for last week were held up multiple times due to unspecified reasons, with one delay caused by the short-lived government funding shutdown.
While the actual launch date has yet to be formally announced, Elon Musk, the NewSpace company’s CEO and founder, noted on Twitter that the launch could take place in a week or so.
Falcon Heavy hold-down firing this morning was good. Generated quite a thunderhead of steam. Launching in a week or so. pic.twitter.com/npaqatbNir
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 24, 2018
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.