Spaceflight Insider

Test fire of V1.2 Falcon 9 complete, stage now set for launch

SpaceX Falcon 9 V1.2 Orbcomm OG2 rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 photo credit Michael Seeley / SpaceFlight Insider

The static test fire was conducted on Dec. 18, 2015. Photo Credit: Michael Seeley / SpaceFlight Insider

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

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,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

SpaceX management/employee relations are terrible. Quality Control is equally bad. Until these problems are addressed, prepare for many additional launch failures.

NASA seems to hold a different opinion, so I think I’ll listen to them instead.

I am so happy to be among the “lunatic fringe of libertarian space clown wannabes”. Guess we have to see how it plays out. “We” obviously doesn’t include those with prophetic powers of gloom.


James W. Barnard

I told Wilbur and I told Orville and I told Wernher, it’ll never get off the ground, let alone to the Moon or Mars! Let’s see…”a pressure fed booster of a couple million pounds thrust instead of the pathetic Merlin…” Sea Dragon would have been nice, I grant (worked on the design calculations back in ’62), but it didn’t happen. If you lose an RD-180 or a single large engine, you are toast! If one or even two of those “pathetic” Merlins goes out, you just burn longer and go for orbit! What is obsolete about RP-1 and LO2 for a first stage? It was used for the Saturn V, which, incidentally did NOT go straight for the Moon, but into LEO first. LH2/LO2 has been used for upper stages since the first Atlas Centaur launch in the 1960’s, and will be used in the future. Otherwise, what do you propose? As to going directly to the Moon from Earth, that is incredibly expensive in terms of propellant use. I’d like to see a nuclear-thermal upper stage for going to Mars, but the tree-huggers won’t hear of it. If SpaceX or some other outfit can successfully recover and reuse the launch vehicle’s first stage, it will cut costs and make a LOT of things in space exploration/commercialization more economical, including commercial development of the Moon. Then there are a lot of things that will come, including sending humans to Mars!
Ad LEO! Ad Luna! Ad Ares! AD ASTRA!

It appears the FAA may have provided permission for the landing attempt

@elonmusk’s Tweeted: “Currently looking good for a Sunday night (~8pm local) attempted orbital launch and rocket landing at Cape Canaveral”

Elon Musk ‏@elonmusk 4h4 hours ago
Currently looking good for a Sunday night (~8pm local) attempted orbital launch and rocket landing at Cape Canaveral

SpaceX does not call this design “Falcon 9 v1.2”. The official name is “Falcon 9 v1.1 Full Thrust”.

I don’t know all that much about rockets, but I know a fair bit about jet turbine engines used in airliners. They’ve been using a form of kerosene for almost a century with no sign of the fuel becoming obsolete. Especially with oil at $40 per barrel. So go ahead and burn that kerosene in your first stagre and second stage. Lets just get back to flight and recover a booster.

In a previous tweet, Elon Musk mentioned SpaceX working upon a deep cyro LOX issue, does anyone know what temperature reduction in LOX that was being talked about?

LOX is normally at its boiling point of 90 degrees K when used in rockets. It’s generally allowed to boil off and be continuously replenished until shortly before ignition and liftoff. SpaceX is looking to lower its LOX temperature by 24 degrees K to 66 K in order to increase the density of the LOX. This is just 12 degress K above oxygen’s freezing point of 54 degrees K. This may mean that we won’t see the usual plumes of water vapor frozen by barely-above-boiling-point gaseous oxygen venting from the LOX tank as on previous Falcon 9 missions. If the temperature of the F9’s LOX can actually be kept at 66 K, there should be no oxygen vapor to release. One presumes that tank pressurization would be maintained by use of helium.

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