Successful Static Fire Test Puts SpaceX Rebuilt Pad 40 Back in Business on Course for Dec 12 NASA Cargo Launch International Space Station
Ken Kremer Space UpClose 10 Dec 2017KENNEDY SPACE CENTER/TITUSVILLE, FL – Pad 40 is back in business on the Florida Space Coast. After SpaceXengineers ran the long awaited and successful statichot fire test of their 'Flight-Proven'Falcon 9 booster at rebuilt Cape Canaveral pad 40 onWed. Dec 6, all systems are now ‘GO’ for Tuesdays lunchtime launch of the rocket hosting the private Dragon resupply spacecraft for NASA to theInternational Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 12.
The mission marks the maiden launch from the facility since a catastrophic launch pad accident in Sept 2016 resulted in extensive damage and forced a pad shutdown for overa year.
The Dragon CRS-13 cargo mission under contract to NASA was recently announced as the inaugural liftoff from the pad 40 structure which has at last been almost completely rebuilt and upgraded.
Blastoff of the ‘used’ SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon CRS-13 commercial cargo freighter is now slated for 11:46 a.m. EST Tuesday, Dec. 12 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The path to launch was cleared following the completion of the requisite hold down static fire test of the booster at pad 40 on Wednesday, Dec 6, at 3 p.m. EST - as I witnessed from the Max Brewer Bridge in Titusville, FL some 14 miles away.
See our photos and video herein.
"Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete—targeting launch of CRS-13 on December 12 from Pad 40,” SpaceX confirmed by tweeted soon after the testwas run.
During the test all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines were ignited for a total “duration of 7 seconds,” confirmed John Muratore, Director of Space Launch Complex 40, during a post test briefing.
The exhaust cloud lingered about 8 minutes over the pad until dissipating completely.
Video Caption: The Dec. 6, 2017 static fire test of a previously used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster(CRS-11) in preparation for the CRS-13 ISS resupply mission for NASA on Dec 12. This is thefirst use of Pad 40 since being badly damaged in the Amos-6 booster explosion on September 1, 2016. The Pad is 14.2 miles away in this video. This static fire burn lasted approximately 7 seconds, up from the previous standard of a 3 second burn. Credit: Jeff Seibert
During Wednesday’s hold down static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages are fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown is carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition.
The hold down engine test with the erected Falcon 9 rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 40 while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad.
Although this static fire test lasted approximately seven seconds they are normally about three seconds.
The longer engine firing was enabled by significant upgrades to the pad as part of the rebuilding process, said Muratore.
The test is routinely conducted by SpaceX engineers to confirm the rockets readiness to launch.
In a major milestone for the first time in the history of SpaceX’s commercial resupply services (CRS) contract for NASA, both the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply ship are reused vehicles that previously flew on missions to space and were recovered and recycled.
SpaceX will also attempt to recover the ‘used’ booster again some 8 minutes after launch via a ground soft landing at the Cape.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s vision is to drastically slash the cost of access to space by recycling the rockets and as much hardware as possible.
To date SpaceX has successfully reflown three recovered rockets - all this year.
All of SpaceX’s launches this year from Florida’s Spaceport have taken place from NASA’s historic Launch Complex-39A at the Kennedy Space Center.
Pad 39A became SpaceX’s only operational Florida Space Coast launch pad following the catastrophic launch pad accident last year on Sept. 1, 2016 that took place during a routine fueling operation leading up to another static fire test that suddenly ended in a devastating explosion and fire that completely consumed the Falcon 9 rocket and Amos-6 payload and heavily damaged the pad and support infrastructure.
Since the Amos-6 accident workers raced to finish refurbishments to NASA’s long dormant pad 39A to transform it into operational status and it has now successfully launched a dozen missions this year.
Simultaneously additional crews have been hard at work to repair damaged pad 40 so that flights can resume there as soon as possible for the bulk of NASA, commercial and military contracted missions.
Altogether Dragon CRS-13 will count as the fourth SpaceX Dragon liftoff of 2017.
The 20-foot high, 12-foot-diameter Dragon CRS-13 vessel will carry about 4,800 pounds of science experiments, research gear, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting outpost and stay about 4 weeks.
It will be a reused Dragon that previously flew on the CRS-6 mission.
“The Dragon [CRS-13] spacecraft will spend about a month attached to the space station,” NASA said, “returning to Earth on Jan. 13, 2018 with results of previous experiments.”
The prior Dragon CRS-12 resupply ship launched from pad 39A on Aug. 14, 2017 from KSC pad 39A and carried more than 6,400 pounds ( 2,900 kg) of science experiments and research instruments, crew supplies, food water, clothing, hardware, gear and spare parts to the million pound orbiting laboratory complex.
Dragon CRS-9 was the last ISS resupply mission to launch from pad 40 on July 18, 2016.
The Falcon 9 booster was previously used on the SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-11 resupply mission for NASA that launched from pad 39A in June 2017.
The Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-8 cargo ship that had launched from Virginia and arrived in mid-November just departed the station this past week from the Earth facing Unity nodeon Dec. 6 to make way for Dragon’s berthing at the Harmony node.
It’s been a busy time of comings and goings for ISS and more are upcoming next week.
Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.