SpaceX ready for another launch and key Commercial Crew test

by Chris Bergin

SpaceX has conducted a Static Fire test on the next Falcon 9 rocket set to launch out of Florida, tasked with the lofting of the TurkmenistanSat spacecraft on April 27. SpaceX also passed a Test Readiness Review (TRR) for its Dragon 2 Pad Abort test, which is currently scheduled to take place on May 5. Both events will be conducted from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral.

SpaceX Static Fire:

The TurkmenAlem52E/MonacoSat 1 (TurkmenSat 1) mission follows hot on the heels of the Falcon 9 launch with the CRS-6 Dragon that was was successfully lofted into orbit and has  since arrived at the International Space Station (ISS).

The original schedule called for the TurkmenistanSat to be launched ahead of CRS-6. However, just prior to its planned Static Fire test, SpaceX opted to switch the running order to allow for confidence checks relating to “bad trends” in a number of helium pressurization system’s bottles (COPVs).

Those checks were completed ahead of the CRS-6 launch, allowing for two launches in quick succession.

One of the primary elements to ensure the rocket is ready to go is the Static Fire test.

Also known as the Hot Fire test, the effort relates to ensuring 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 shutdown commands, which have to operate as designed, and that the Merlin 1D engines perform properly during start-up.

Tasks also include a full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown operations, engine ignition operations and testing of the pad’s high volume water deluge system.

Z55The Static Test provides a dress rehearsal for the actual launch, with controllers first conducting a poll to allow for the loading of Falcon 9’s RP-1 propellant with liquid oxygen oxidizer two hours and 35 minutes before T-0.

This was followed by fuel and Thrust Vector Control (TVC) bleeding on the second stage, performed at T-60 minutes.

At T-13 minutes, a final flight readiness poll was required, with a final hold point at T-11 minutes.

Per the countdown procedures, the tasks then entered the terminal count ten minutes before ignition, followed by the launch vehicle being transferred to internal power at four minutes and 45 seconds before T-0.

The Flight Termination System (FTS), used to destroy the rocket in the event of a problem during an actual launch, was armed three minutes and eleven seconds before launch, and seven seconds later oxidizer topping was concluded.

Z7Pressurization of the propellant tanks followed as the countdown continued through to ignition.

A short burst of the Merlin ID engines on the core stage of the F9 then took place – noted per L2 coverage – at 2pm local time at the start of a four hour test window, which allows for validation data to be gained on the health of the vehicle and pad systems.

With the required engine and vehicle data collected, detanking operations followed for the rest of the day, followed by the lowering on to the Transporter Erector and rollback to the hanger.

The Static Fire test still requires a review from the controllers that conducted the test, prior to a Launch Readiness Review (LRR) later this week.

Should all go to plan, SpaceX will press forward with the planned April 27 launch with a window ranging from 18:14 to 19:44 local. An alternate launch date of April 28 is also available on the Eastern Range utilizing the same launch window.

2015-04-22-234654This latest Falcon 9 is without the landing legs that are employed during a landing attempt on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS).

As with a recent launch that successfully lofted the Asia Broadcast Satellite’s ABS-3A and Eutelsat 115 West B spacecraft, the Falcon 9 will require all of the juice available in the propellant tanks, thus negating spare fuel for the return leg of the first stage.

Interestingly, that previous “legless” mission resulted in impressive performance from the launch vehicle, with source information noting the upper stage shut down when it reached the “apogee maximum limit”, still with propellant available for additional performance, had it been required. The contracted minimum apogee was actually many thousands of miles less than what was actually achieved.

The next landing attempt will be made via the Falcon 9 launch involving the CRS-7 Dragon spacecraft.

A Dragon of a different breed will be center stage just days after the TurkmenistanSat launch.

2015-04-22-234746The Dragon 2 test vehicle, part of SpaceX’s Commercial Crew drive in cooperation with NASA, is set for a Pad Abort test from SLC-40 on May 5.

Following the completion of the Test Readiness Review (TRR), NASA confirmed the test date and noted the event will be webcast on NASA TV.

The abort vehicle has been outfitted with seven seats, one of which is already occupied by a human-size test dummy, embedded with a suite of sensors.

The dummy has been placed in a “black composite flight article” seat, whereas the other seats are constructed from an aluminum metal frame with white steel plates bolted to them to simulate crew weight. The interior is surrounded by bare isogrid walls, accompanied by a few black boxes.

2015-04-03-190229The pressure vessel is based on the cargo Dragon vehicle, albeit with the smaller hatch. There are no actual windows in the capsule, with gold mirrors mimicking the outer windows of the operational Dragon 2.

As with the Static Fire test, a four-hour window will be available to the Dragon to fire up her SuperDraco thrusters from a truss structure at the pad, with the window opening at 9:30 am local time. SpaceX has an additional test opportunity on May 6.

Should the test take place on May 5, it will mark the 54th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mercury flight. Notable, Dragon’s eight SuperDracos will be almost double the liftoff thrust of the Rocketdyne A-7 engine used on the Mercury rocket.

(Images: via SpaceX)

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