"SpaceX on Friday afternoon lifted a Falcon 9 rocket vertical on Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A in preparation for an important test that could clear the way for a launch from the historic site on Feb. 18.
The so-called "static fire" test, planned as soon as Saturday, Feb. 11, will run the launch team through a countdown dress rehearsal. The rocket will be fueled and the countdown should culminate in a seconds-long firing of nine main engines while the rocket is held down on the pad.
The test could occur between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, if pad and rocket systems are ready.
SpaceX is targeting a launch of the Falcon 9 and a Dragon capsule packed with International Space Station supplies around 10 a.m. Feb. 18. The mission will be the first launched from pad 39A since Atlantis blasted off in July 2011 on the shuttle program's final flight.
Schedule of upcoming Florida rocket launches
On Friday morning, a transporter rolled the Falcon 9 horizontally from a new hangar at the pad's base along rails up the pad stand. A hydraulic system lifted the rocket vertical in the afternoon.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared a picture on social media of the rocket standing on the pad NASA built in the 1960s for Apollo program moon launches.
"This is the same launch pad used by the Saturn V rocket that first took people to the moon in 1969," Musk wrote. "We are honored to be allowed to use it.""
As you may recall, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, together with its payload, a satellite Facebook wanted to use for Africa, exploded on its launching pad during a test last September at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Apparently the inquiry into the problem that caused the explosion has been advanced sufficiently to resume launching Falcon 9's, and on JAN 14 there was already a successful launch of 10 Iridium satellites. Iridium satellites provide voice and data coverage to satellite phones, pagers and integrated transceivers over the entire surface of the planet. They are arrayed in six orbits of 11 satellites each.
The static test for the next mission, scheduled for later this week, would first have taken place on Saturday 11 FEB, but it was postponed to today, Sunday 12. And as I'm typing this, I just learned the test went well. Via Spaceflight Insider:
"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.
Via a stream from Spaceflight Now, a plum of exhaust was seen on the north side of the pad indicating a successful test fire. SpaceX confirmed the test occurred minutes later via a tweet.
Falcon 9 vertical at Launch Complex 39A
The Falcon 9 rocket that will support the CRS-10 mission was moved to Launch Complex 39A and raised into the vertical position. A static fire test was performed on the rocket Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Photo Credit: Elon Musk
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.
But what I am really looking forward to is the launching, later this year, of the Falcon Heavy, a variant of the Falcon 9 consisting of a standard Falcon 9 rocket core with two additional strap-on boosters, which are themselves derivatives from the Falcon 9 first stage. The Falcon Heavy will increase Low Earth Orbit (LEO) payload to a staggering 54.4 tonnes, compared to the 22.8 tonnes for a Falcon 9 full thrust. Via SpaceX's website:
Fascinating! Notice how nothing is lost, since all the boosters return to Earth and can be reused! This means that launching satellites will become significantly cheaper.