SpaceX Says New Improved SLC-40 Ready for Launches Again Following CRS-13 Test Fire

FILE PHOTO: Falcon 9 v1.1 and CRS-3 Dragon payload undergoing a static “hot-fire” test on Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 ahead of its opening launch attempt. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) is back in business after supporting a successful Falcon-9 static test fire on Dec 6 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, where SpaceX is currently preparing the booster to launch an un-crewed Dragon spacecraft with about 4,800 pounds of goods to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. 

SLC-40 has been out of service for over a year, since Sep 2016, when another Falcon-9 rocket exploded on the pad during a similar countdown “dress rehearsal”, taking their customer’s AMOS-6 satellite with it.

BELOW: SpaceX CRS-13 Test Fire

In a media briefing call Dec 8, SpaceX SLC-40 Director John Muratore noted that work rebuilding SLC-40 began in February 2017, after the pad was on lockdown following the explosion, with SpaceX spending $50 million to rebuild and further improve the 1960s era launch complex to support many years of Falcon 9 launches, at a rapid flight rate.

Improvements to the Transporter-Erector, flame trench and water system will help the new pad withstand more abuse, longer test fires and support a higher launch rate. SpaceX hopes to turn the pad around between launches in as little as a week, according to Muratore.

Crew Dragon and Falcon Heavy missions will all launch off nearby pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

File photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch off SLC-40. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

A successful static test fire at SLC-40 on Dec 6 now paves the way to a launch attempt for their 13th commercial resupply services mission for NASA (CRS-13), scheduled for no earlier than Dec. 12 at 11:46 a.m. EST.

The mission will mark the fourth Dragon to fly this year, which will double the number of fully successful Dragon missions ever flown by SpaceX in a single calendar year. Both the CRS-13 rocket and Dragon capsule are used too, with the rocket having previously launched CRS-11 in June 2017 and the Dragon having flown mission CRS-6 in spring 2015.

Following liftoff, the rocket’s first stage will return to Earth to attempt a vertical landing back at Cape Canaveral AFS “Landing Zone 1”, after delivering Dragon to low-Earth orbit, inclined 51.6 degrees to the equator where it will follow a two-day rendezvous profile to reach the ISS.


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  1. I’m looking forward to this historic mission and the return to service of SLC-40.

    Question: will AmericaSpace photographers have remote cameras at AFS Landing Zone 1? Hoping to see some terrific high-def video of a F-9 landing.

    Minor quibble: “Both the CRS-13 rocket and Dragon capsule are used too”. True enough, but of course it’s the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster that’s used, the F-9 upper stage as well as the Dragon “trunk” (aka service module) are disposable elements. A 100% reusable launch vehicle will arrive when the SpaceX BFR-V2 enters service in a few years.

    • se jones,
      Are there no plans to make the 2nd stage reusable? I thought that was going to be the case with FH launches?

  2. “…no plans to make the 2nd stage reusable?”

    No, the mass ratio of the upper stage is much much more finely tuned than the over-powered (over-fueled) “brutish” multi-engine first stage, so any added mass to upper stage structure would take away from the payload mass, one pound to one pound.

    A reusable 2nd stage for the Falcon Heavy is also very unlikely for the same reason, plus two more interrelated reasons:
    #1 Sales of the F-H (and other rockets in the same class) are slow, so the investment in more R&D for the F-H isn’t justified.
    #2 The cancellation of the Red Dragon Mars mission: with the release of BFR-V2, SpaceX has made it clear that the BFR-V2 will be taking over as the SpaceX primary launch vehicle much sooner than was initially planned. In order to fund accelerated BFR-V2 development, R&D distractions for things like Red Dragon or reusable F9/FH upper-stages are deferred.

    Side note: one of the main reasons F-H (and the sad all hydrogen Delta-IV Heavy) isn’t flying off the shelf, is the stunning success of the new all-electric communication satellites. “All electric” comm sats use ion thrusters to climb up to geostationary orbit (EOR), a process that takes months but saves thousands of pounds of propellant mass (bad news for the moon ice business model).

    In 2018 ATK will begin flying its EOR enabled Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) up to geostationary orbit, in order to dock with and extend the lifetime of existing comm sats which are running out of fuel. Very exciting times.

    links to EOR information:
    The EUTELSAT 172B spacecraft has now reached geostationary orbit, breaking the record for the fastest satellite electric orbit raising (EOR)

    ATK Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV)

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