One of the most highly-anticipated rockets in history roared to life for the first time today (Jan 24, 2018) atop its historic launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as SpaceX’s first triple-barreled Falcon Heavy conducted a successful Wet Dress Rehearsal and Static Test Fire of its 27 Merlin engines.
America’s newest rocket first rose to vertical atop 39A on Dec 28, and engineers have since been working on the rocket, conducting fit checks, propellant loading and troubleshooting issues before clearing the way for today’s successful practice countdown and test fire of the new heavy-lift launcher.
“Falcon Heavy hold-down firing this morning was good. Generated quite a thunderhead of steam,” tweeted Elon Musk. “Launching in a week or so,” he added.
WATCH FALCON HEAVY’S DEBUT TEST FIRE ON 39A, IN 4K!
Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
What that means in Elon time, we don’t know, but today’s test fire is a sure sign that the 230 foot tall (70 m) rocket is close to ready for its debut launch, a test flight demonstration to verify the whole thing works as envisioned and designed.
And being that there’s no customer, Musk and SpaceX have come up with a PR plan to launch Musk’s original midnight cherry Tesla Roadster into space for the test flight, playing ‘Space Oddity’ as it orbits the sun.
The Tesla was NOT onboard the rocket for today’s test fire either, it hasn’t been onboard at all atop 39A. Matter of fact, it isn’t even on KSC, it’s next door on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
“Destination is Mars orbit,” said Musk previously. “Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.”
But that claim can be misleading, and already is across the internet since people think it’s actually going to Mars now.
Truth is it won’t be anywhere near Mars, ever. But rather, it’s being launched into a solar orbit with an apogee THE SAME DISTANCE FROM THE SUN AS Mars; big difference.
But that brings up other questions such as does SpaceX have a 50 year planetary protection plan? Surely there are measures that must be followed for anything being launched into solar orbits, especially since one bump by an asteroid could, in theory, send the Tesla hurtling into a planet in the future.
AmericaSpace has reached out to SpaceX for comment on this and preparations being made to process the Tesla for flight, as well as details about the trajectory and orbit it will take.
SpaceX has yet to provide AmericaSpace this information to report, only saying they are looking into it (we will update accordingly if and when they do).
All three of the rocket’s cores underwent individual test firing at SpaceX’s proving grounds in McGregor, TX some time ago, but further testing has been needed on the fully integrated rocket ahead of static test fire and, soon, launch from 39A.
Nobody had ever fired up 27 engines on a United States launch pad before today.
SpaceX claims the new rocket can lift twice the payload to space than their main rival and competitor’s rocket equivalent, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta-IV Heavy, and SpaceX claims they can do so at 1/3 the cost too.
No doubt ULA employees were paying attention today, and will be again come launch day.
SpaceX is getting in the habit of re-flying their rockets too, having done so already on a few missions, and two of the three cores of the Falcon Heavy are exactly that; already flight-proven. They previously launched the Thaicom-8 and NASA CRS-9 missions, but the vehicle’s central core is new, built specifically to withstand the unique stresses and environment of launching with three cores and 27 engines.
“With the ability to lift into orbit over 54 metric tons (119,000 lb)–a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel,” says the company on its website.
SpaceX will attempt to land all three rocket cores too. They’ve been landing their Falcon 9s successfully now for quite some time, on both their offshore autonomous “drone ships” as well as on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s ‘Landing Zone 1’ (LZ-1).
The two flight-proven side cores will land back on LZ-1, the center core will land on a SpaceX drone ship offshore, downrange of the launch site.
FALCON HEAVY TEST FIRE
Credit: Jeff Seibert / AmericaSpace
At liftoff, all 27 engines will produce as much thrust as eighteen jumbo 747 aircraft at full power, or 5.13 million pounds of thrust. That will make it the most powerful U.S. rocket since the Saturn V, which launched astronauts to the moon during NASA’s historic Apollo era, and the most powerful rocket currently operating in the world.
But up first, SpaceX needs to launch a paying customer’s mission, the SES16/GovSat-1 satellite, which will launch off Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 40 atop a Falcon 9 as soon as next week, following a test fire of its own later this week. That booster is already flight-proven too, previously used to launch the SpaceX’s first classified government mission, NROL-76 for the National Reconnaissance Office on May 1, 2017 from KSC pad 39A.
The booster is expected to make a landing attempt on SpaceX’s offshore autonomous drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY) after launch.
Follow our Falcon Heavy Tracker for regular updates!
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