SpaceX’s newly upgraded Falcon 9 v.1.1 has successfully completed a second Hot Fire test – also known as a Static Fire – ahead of its debut mission to launch the Cassiope satellite into orbit. Launch from SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex – 4 (SLC-4) at Vandenberg is now targeting a window that opens on September 29, pending a Launch Readiness Review (LRR).
Debut of the F9 V1.1 (F9-R) – UPDATED ARTICLE:
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is set to enjoy a new – more adventurous – life in its upgraded configuration.
Following a salvo of successful launches – despite a few hairy moments during ascent, such as the engine out during its launch of the CRS-1 Dragon – a series of upgrades have been implemented, both to increase SpaceX’s upmass ability and to test their ambition of creating a fully reusable launch system – thus its alternative name as the F9-R.
The new Falcon 9 sports stretched tankage that supplies LOX and RP-1 to nine upgraded Merlin engines, now rearranged in an “octagonal” pattern on the core, with one center engine.
The Merlin 1Ds began testing back in 2011, before completing of a 28-test qualification program, with the engine accumulating 1,970 seconds of total test time, the equivalent run time of over 10 full mission durations.
Nine of the engines – in their flight configuration – were then test fired for the first time at SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.
Numerous tests were conducted, with varying levels of success. However, the tests used non-flight engines, which were deemed to be less robust than those with which the Falcon 9 v1.1 will launch.
That was proven via the completion of the validation test program, allowing for the flight engines to prove their worth during the acceptance testing, which subsequently provided the green light for the core – known as F9S1-006 – to be shipped to the launch site in California.
The Launch Site:
SpaceX’s SLC-4 has a deep history, following its previous role with the Atlas and Titan rockets between 1963 and 2005.
The complex hosted two pads, SLC-4W (PALC2-3) and SLC-4E (PALC2-4), with the latter converted for SpaceX’s Falcon requirements.
The two year refurbishment program began in 2011, involving demolition work on the pad’s fixed and mobile service towers.
The site will host both the upgraded Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy. The FH is set to debut in 2014, using the same Transporter Erector that was recently put into use during hosting of the Falcon 9 v1.1 for its Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR).
Path To Launch:
A large amount of work has taken place to be in a stance where SpaceX are just days away from this key launch.
Along with the testing that has been conducted around the country, not just on the engines, but also – for example – on the upgraded fairing, the debut integration of the new launch vehicle at the Vandenberg site involves two milestones.
The first was the WDR, which was successfully conducted at the end of August – per L2’s rolling Cassiope Mission coverage.
It was initially thought a second WDR would be required, prior to confirmation SpaceX had successfully gathered all their required data, allowing for them to proceed towards the Hot Fire test.
The primary goals of a Hot Fire test is to ensure that the pad’s fueling systems – and the launch vehicle – function properly in a fully operational environment, with numerous requirements to be successfully proven via such a test, such as the engine ignition and shut down commands, which have to operate as designed, and that the Merlin 1D engines perform properly during start-up.
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Tasks also include a successful full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown operations, engine ignition operations and testing of the pad’s high volume water deluge system.
With a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) reviewing the WDR and flow to date, managers gave their approval for the Hot Fire to take place, resulting in the SpaceX team preparing for what was an initial target of September 11 – prior to a scrub due to several issues during tanking.
However, a quick turnaround resulted in another attempt on Thursday – which proved to be a long day as the countdown to the hot fire was aborted twice, prior to the Falcon 9 v1.1 finally firing up on the third attempt.
While details of this vehicle’s flow have been few and far between, it is likely the Falcon 9 v1.1’s Hot Fire followed a similar path to that of its predecessor.
With the test providing a dress rehearsal for the actual launch, controllers would have began the test with polling to allow for the loading of Falcon 9’s RP-1 propellant with liquid oxygen oxidizer two hours and thirty five minutes before T-0.
This would have likely been followed with fuel and thrust vector control bleeding on the second stage, performed at T-1 hour. At T-13 minutes, a final flight readiness poll would have been conducted, which would then be followed by the final hold point at T-11 minutes.
The procedures would then enter the terminal count ten minutes before launch, followed by the launch vehicle being transferred to internal power at four minutes and forty six seconds before T-0.
The flight termination system, used to destroy the rocket in the event of a problem during an actual launch, would have been armed three minutes and eleven seconds before launch, and seven seconds later oxidizer topping ended.
Pressurization of the propellant tanks would follow, and while the WDR countdown concluded at around T-5 seconds, the static fire test would have continued through to ignition for a short burst to validate the condition of the engine set.
Detanking operations would then follow, ahead of its lowering on to the Transporter Erector and rollback to the hanger to begin final processing ahead of launch.
The first hot fire, which – as noted above – took place on September 12 suffered from some anomalies during the test, which is understood to have resulted in a decision to recycle and retest the rocket to ensure it is in good shape for its important mission.
This second test took place on Thursday and resulted in “all systems green this time” by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
The successful hot fire test allows for the re-scheduling of the debut launch attempt of the new Falcon 9 at the end of the month. The launch window is understood to be open from September 29.
SpaceX will conduct the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) meeting – usually set for two to three days prior to launch – to confirm the rocket is ready for flight from its new Californian launch pad.
Riding on the debut F9 v1.1 is the CAScade, Smallsat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) spacecraft – a made-in-Canada small satellite from the Canadian Space Agency.
CASSIOPE is hexagonal in shape, measuring just 180 cm corner-to-corner and 125 cm high and weighing in at just over 500 kg.
It is comprised of three working elements that will use the first multi-purpose small satellite platform from the Canadian Small Satellite Bus Program.
This generic, low-cost platform will carry two payloads: e-POP, a scientific payload consisting of eight high-resolution instruments used to probe the characteristics of near-Earth space, and Cascade, a high data rate, high capacity store and forward technology payload from MDA Corporation.
Together, e-POP and Cascade will achieve both a scientific and a commercial objective. providing scientists with unprecedented details about the Earth’s ionosphere, thermosphere and magnetosphere, helping scientists understand the cause and effects of potentially dangerous space weather.
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However, getting the satellite safely to orbit will be a greater challenge than usual, with so many modifications to the Falcon 9 all debuting at the same time.
“Upcoming Falcon 9 demo has a lot of new technology, so the probability of failure is significant,” admitted SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.
Should all go to plan, SpaceX will move their focus to the eastern seaboard, with hardware for the second Falcon 9 v1.1 – set to loft the SES-8 satellite – already tested and in various stages of processing (L2) at the company’s Cape Canaveral launch site.
(Images: via SpaceX and CSA. L2’s SpaceX Special Section is now a dedicated sections, covering all missions and includes over 1,000 unreleased hi res images from Dragon’s flights to the ISS.)
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