Falcon Heavy Roars to Life as Successful Test Fire Paves Way for February Launch Debut

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket comes to life for the first time on pad 39A at KSC Jan 24, 2018, carrying out its first static test fire. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

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.

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.”

An original Tesla Roadster, playing Space Oddity, will launch atop Falcon Heavy on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit. Photo: Elon Musk via Instagram

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.

Waterfowl around launch complex 39A were not too happy about America’s most powerful rocket coming to life. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

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.

Credit: Jeff Seibert / AmericaSpace

Their most recent launch, the now infamous ZUMA, marked the ninth occasion since December 2015 that a returning Falcon has achieved a touchdown specifically on LZ-1.

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.


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  1. Gee, you’d think that SpaceX would be more forthcoming with the media …. WTF is up with THAT?

    By the way, what exactly is “Elon time”?? 🙂

    Thanks for great journalism. Must be so frustrating!

  2. SpaceX has completed the SFT and it went good according to Musk tweet…

    ….Launch will be within a week or so…Should be great! either a lunch and 3 booster returns or one big explosion! Can’t wait

  3. Can you cite the source of the claim the Tesla was NOT onboard during the static fire? Makes no sense. Why risk a demate/load payload/remate cycle for no reason? Why risk the $5 million dollar payload fairing during the static fire unless it was protecting a payload onboard? Optics? The only reason to justify the payload fairing being there at all is to get as close to true launch conditions as possible. But what’s the point if there is no payload (and payload adapter)to measure? What you are claiming is internally inconsistent. Can’t believe this without substantive evidence.

    • No, we won’t reveal our sources, it wasn’t onboard, and it wasn’t even on KSC during WDR & STF. You don’t have to believe it, but point out one time where we were wrong?

      Right, you can’t…

      Falcon Heavy has been lowered back horizontal is in preps for the Tesla to mated onboard.

      Make sure you email us back an apology soon when you realize we were right, even employees in public groups online have confirmed it.

    • Possible for vibration/modal analysis purposes they wanted the stack full up with faring during the SF. May have also used a test mass inside of an exact quantity. I’ve heard multiple reports of this elsewhere as well. Optics are important too…looks a lot better with fairing atop.

    • That the FH STF was not conducted with the Tesla in the fairing. Which has now been confirmed. Case closed, Tom D Perkins.

      • The reason is probably not because they haven’t done it previously (Post AMOS-6). This is an inert and trivial valued internally sourced payload. Other cases were customer owned (and more importantly insured). None of those limitations apply here. SpaceX is on the hook to rebuild the pad and stand down if a mishap happens during SF, the loss of a Gen 1 Tesla Roadster doesn’t even move the needle in comparison.

  4. You both are ridiculous, most people don’t comment because there’s no reason to comment, they don’t come here for debates they come for the accurate info, stunning original AmericaSpace imagery, fantastic quality writing and launch coverage AmericaSpace provides.

    This “blog” is an accredited space news media outlet with every agency and aerospace contractor in the industry.

    Moderators will be deleting comments by both of you which we find offense / insulting to readers moving forward.

    We encourage healthy debates & discussions, even heated ones that come off intelligently and not as attacks on people, but that’s not what you both keep doing.

    I’ll leave this up for a bit before I begin deleting offensive comments that don’t at all bring anything positive to the subject.

    • Mike Killian
      Managing Editor
    • Begging your pardon sir, but if you bother to read the comments before deleting, you’ll see I was the soul of courtesy for far longer than could be generally expected, given Mr. Chriuch’s gratuitous insults.

      And I hope you delete none. Not even his.

      • @ Tom,
        I disagree Tom. A certain amount of honest moderation allows reasonable technical discussion. I would like to be able to discuss Moon/Mars or SpaceX vs cost plus problems without it becoming a flame fest. I blame the author of the Gary Church and other screen name comments for the vast majority of the problems of holding a sincere discussion here. I happen to not be a Mars fan, but still get accused of it when he posts. It would be good to be able to discuss it here as adults, which cannot happen currently.

        Comments often add considerable quality to an original post. Quite a few of the pros that I have known check comments for factual or entertaining counter arguments as well as further information on the issue. Some of the best blogs have strong moderation, though of course some use it to censor opposing viewpoints. I can deal with some of my comments being blocked or deleted if there is an accepted guideline available that slows or stops some of the problems that I see here.

        • Will take that into consideration John. We would much rather be producing content and be out in the field or researching for our reporting, covering various events & etc, instead of babysitting Gary Church rants which people can’t seem able to ignore.

          Besides wanting to better utilize time to produce content, we have always wanted to avoid moderating being taken as censorship, because there will always be those who would see it that way.

          Tom, will ask that you ignore Gary Church from now on, we appreciate your support of AmericaSpace and the dialogue you bring to the table, but don’t play his game.

          “Lori” is not another Church alias either.

          • Mike Killian
            Managing Editor / AmericaSpace
          • 🙂 Thank you Mike. Have no idea who “Gary Church” is …. but I doubt he’d pretend to be a friend of Gwynne Shotwell …. maybe Elon.

            • MichaelatNASA,
              I don’t know where you said this… You referenced a SSTO as needing some other fuel source than chemical because the ISP was not high enough. I wanted to know if you thought that the only problem of the X-33 VentureStar was the failure of the LOX/H2 tanks being constructed of polycarbonate composite that required additional weight? Also the SpaceX BFR is going to be a SSTO as well… Won’t that require a construction of polycarbonate composite to lower weight is that possible?

              • Yes I have it wrong the BFR is NOT a SSTO…Still is its success completely dependent on the polycarbonate composite fabrication and performance?

            • @Lori R
              “Have no idea who…”

              FWIW he’s all over the interwebs under various names. He’s Gary Michael Church (Michael at NASA -get it?).

              Gary has a web site/blog “ICE ON THE MOON” for your edification. Link: https://iceonthemoon.wordpress.com/

              “…pretend to be a friend of Gwynne Shotwell …. maybe Elon”. You funny Lori.

              Here’s how Gary reacts to a SpaceX launch:
              “SpaceX will once again try and “change history” by landing their hobby rocket on a barge. Every time that piece of junk counts down I pray to God in heaven that it will blow up on the pad. At least my prayers are being answered in regards to part of it landing.
              Please God, please, let it blow up again.”

              ICE ON THE MOON June 2015 https://tinyurl.com/ybpr8ypm

              His thoughts on us Mars & “New Space” fans:

              One site where Gary and his partner James(Moon Miner) are always welcome is Paul Spudis’
              “The Spudis Lunar Resources Blog”.

              Paul Spudis is a world class scientist at NASA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute. He’s published lots of excellent Lunar research papers.
              He is a wee bit grouchy over anything to do with Mars, as he sees all Mars research as getting all the love and finding. He also hate’s Musk’s guts and sees the solutions to all manned spaceflight going through NASA’s program offices. One may be tempted to say Spudis knows who fills his rice bowl. As it were.
              Spudis is also looking forward to the Falcon Heavy (or as he calls it “the monstrosity”) exploding https://tinyurl.com/y88x6w5s

  5. Here’s to a successful launch. I think I’ll probably turn blue before the launch is over. New record coming methinks.

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