Test fire of V1.2 Falcon 9 complete, stage now set for launch
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX completed a static test fire of the NewSpace firm’s Falcon 9 V1.2 rocket on Dec. 18, 2015. The test occurred some two days after the rocket had been rolled out to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) in Florida and marks an important step on the road to launching the 11 satellites that make up the Orbcomm OG2 mission.
More importantly for SpaceX, the static test fire marks one of the final milestones before the rocket and its precious cargo can be sent aloft.
The Orbcomm OG2 mission, as is the case with so many flights from SpaceX, will include an array of firsts. One of these will be the fact that, if successful, the launch will mark the Return to Flight (RTF) for the Falcon 9.
On June 28, 2015, another Falcon 9 rocket, this one carrying out the CRS-7 mission for NASA, was lost some two minutes and 19 seconds into flight – as was the roughly 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg) of cargo, crew supplies, and experiments that the Dragon spacecraft carried. The cause of the mishap was a strut in the rocket’s second stage which resulted in a helium tank breaking free.
Since that time, SpaceX has conducted a number of other improvements to the rocket’s design via what has been dubbed a “Deep Dive Review” (according to a report appearing on NASASpaceFlight.com).
For followers of the Hawthorne, California-based company, the most notable aspect of this mission outside of the rocket’s RTF is the fact that this mission could see the first ground landing attempt for the first stage of the Falcon 9 returning from sending a payload to orbit.
The V1.2 version of the Falcon 9 has been developed, in part, for this purpose. The booster has been upgraded to its “full thrust” capability, which should help during the critical final moments prior to conducting a landing.
Until now, actual Falcon 9s returning from sending payloads to orbit, have conducted water landings, with the first test carried out during the 2013 CASSIOPE mission.
SpaceX would subsequently deploy its Autonomous Drone Spaceport Ship to attempt a landing on the platform which was situated off the Coast of Florida. Although never successfully completed, the first stage came very close to landing during the CRS-6 mission. However, the rocket tipped over due to “excess lateral velocity” – and exploded.
Little information was released about the Friday static fire test, with the exception being the following tweet from Elon Musk posted late on Friday:
“Static fire test looks good. Pending data review[;] will aim to launch Sunday.”
The launch might come as a surprise to the 45th Space Wing who manages the launches on the Eastern Range. As representatives have stated on Dec. 14, the next launch scheduled was the GPS-IIF-12 mission, set to take place early next year. Moreover, it is unclear, as of this writing, whether the FAA has approved SpaceX’s landing attempt.
UPDATE: The launch attempt is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 20, at 8:29 p.m. EST (01:29 GMT, Dec 21).
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.