Test Fire of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Conducted

SpaceX successfully completed a static test fire of the Falcon 9 rocket at 4:15 p.m. EDT today. SpaceX is now ready to launch the rocket and its Dragon spacecraft payload on May 7. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) conducted a static live fire today of the Falcon 9 rocket that will be used for the upcoming COTS 2/COTS 3 mission. The NewSpace firm successfully completed the test on the second attempt. The first try was stopped at T-47 seconds before the test was slated to begin. The commercial space company worked the problem (SpaceX stated that it was an “improperly set limit”) and then went ahead and successfully test-fired the nine Merlin engines at 4:15 p.m. EDT.

SpaceX halted the first test fire of the Falcon 9's Merlin engines about 47 seconds before the test was to begin. SpaceX worked the issue and successfully completed the test on the second attempt at 4:15 p.m. EDT. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

The test was the final step before launch, scheduled to take place May 7 at 9:38 a.m. EDT. The launch site is Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.

How the engineers dealt with today’s issues – is classic SpaceX. Anomalies have cropped up on prior test firings as well as both previous launches of the Falcon 9, and the Hawthorne, Calif. – based company dealt with the problems and completed the objectives each time. SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, summed up his feelings about today’s test fire in a Twitter post.

“Woohoo, rocket hold-down firing completed and all looks good!!” Musk posted.

Musk and his company have entered into the $1.6 billion Commercial Orbital Transportation Services or COTS contract with NASA. For SpaceX, COTS is comprised of three demonstration flights and nine resupply flights to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX asked NASA to combine the objectives of the second and third demonstration flights into one. NASA agreed. 

The upcoming mission is slated to happen like this; the Falcon 9 will launch, sending the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. Once there the Dragon will have crucial systems and sensors tested out as the vehicle rendezvous with the ISS. If everything checks out the spacecraft will be grappled using the space station’s robotic arm. It will then be berthed to the Earth-facing node of the station’s harmony module. The crew on board the ISS will then open the Dragon’s hatch and unload the cargo that it will contain. SpaceX is prepared for the possibility that if things don’t go according to plan.

The upcoming May 7 launch could herald a new age of space flight - the commercial age. Image Credit: SpaceX

If any part of the mission is unsuccessful – then an actual third demonstration flight will be scheduled and those unfinished requirements will conducted on the third demonstration flight.

The COTS 2/COTS 3 flight will be one for the history books. It will mark the first time that a privately-owned spacecraft has traveled to and potentially berthed with the orbiting laboratory. It will also go a long way toward vindicating NASA’s commercial crew and cargo efforts.

SpaceX flight controllers successfully tested the Falcon 9's engines on the second attempt at 4:15 p.m. EDT. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Both the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are designed to carry both crew and cargo. It is hoped that flights conducted on the COTS and CRS missions will provide the experience needed to accomplish these objectives. SpaceX needs to gain this experience as the company has signed multiple contracts with both commercial and government customers to launch a wide range of satellites and spacecraft.

If the Dragon proves itself ready to carry cargo to the ISS, SpaceX can begin fulfilling the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract that it has with NASA. This means at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the space station (Dragon, unlike similar Russian, Japanese and European spacecraft is reusable).

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