The first “Full Thrust” Falcon 9 first stage has begun a test sequence that is involving two static fires on a new test stand at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. The stage, unofficially assigned to the launch of the SES-9 satellite in November, underwent a short 15 second firing, ahead of a full duration static fire test that is expected to take place in October.
Falcon 9 Testing:
SpaceX is currently working towards a Return To Flight target of November, following the loss of the previous Falcon 9 mission with the CRS-7 Dragon spacecraft.
Launching on the upgraded Falcon 9, previously cited as the “Falcon 9 v1.2” in the media – but internally known as the “Falcon 9 v1.1 Full Thrust” – the RTF mission is understood to involve the launch of the SES-9 telecommunication satellite.
SpaceX won’t be drawn on confirming when SES-9 will be launched in the sequence of upcoming missions, citing it is the responsibility of the customer to make such an announcement.
Although SpaceX is still conducting its investigation into the CRS-7 failure, a large amount of work is being undertaken with the preparation of launch hardware for the upcoming missions, which will allow the company to hit the ground running when it ready to return to launch action.
Information (L2) noted that one F9 first stage and interstage had already been shipped out of the factory as of late August , en route to McGregor.
It is currently the only test stand that can be utilized for the upgraded Falcon 9’s slightly increased length while the original stand prepares to be upgraded.
Guarded by the “Rocket Cows of McGregor” – the stage was soon expected to undergo a 15 second static fire test, although there is no set time for the short test. The initial target was delayed, prior to a scrub, before a realigned test target in the second half of September.
UPDATE: Static Fire has now occurred.
A test – lasting around 30 seconds – was observed earlier the month, although this did not involve the Falcon 9 stage.
It is currently unknown if this was a Merlin 1D test or a second stage test firing, although further evaluations point to it being a single Merlin 1D static fire test.
Now the first stage static fire test has been initiated, it marked the first time an upgraded Falcon 9 first stage has fired up its nine engines.
The final static test will be a Full Duration Firing, currently scheduled to take place in mid-October. The Stage will then be transported by truck to Cape Canaveral for launch preparations.
With the RTF manifest still evolving, preliminary planning dates are now showing the SES-9 mission to launch in the second half of November, with the 20th cited as the latest date (L2). SES later noted they are hoping for November 17, all but confirming they will be the first to fly as Falcon 9 RTF.
Mr. Musk also noted – on September 24 – that SpaceX is six to eight weeks away from RTF during his meetings in Berlin.
Due to SpaceX’s ongoing investigation into the CRS-7 failure a solid schedule is not expected for some weeks. However, with the SES-9 date moving to the right on the preliminary planning schedule, the following missions are expected to follow suit.
The return of Dragon missions to the International Space Station (ISS) – on the CRS-8/SpX-8 mission – remains in flux, with the mid-November date cited by NASA managers now increasingly looking like it will move to December or even into 2016.
The latest planning date from this week claimed December 6 is under evaluation, while talk from ESA partners claim the mission could be pushed into 2016 to provide extra flexibility to Cygnus’ return on the ORB-4 mission in December. NASA is expected to make a planning decision on targetting November, December or 2016 in the near future.
The latest preliminary schedule information also cites the ORBCOMM-2 mission is being evaluated for a December 21 launch slot, with Jason-3 likely to move into 2016. Jason-3 will launch on the last remaining Falcon 9 v1.1 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
SES-9, ORBCOMM-2 and the CRS-8 Dragon will all ride on the upgraded Falcon 9 from SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral base at SLC-40.
This Cape pad complex – along with SpaceX’s Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center – will have a LOX densification system on site, allowing the LOX to be super chilled to 1 degree above the triple point.
This process will be achieved by chilling the LOX (-297 degrees F) with LN2 (-320 degrees F). This will raise the LOX density from 70 pounds per cubic foot to 75 pounds per cubic foot, about a 7 percent increase in density.
This will aid the Merlin 1D’s increase in performance, which has been in the planning for SpaceX since the new engine started life with the Falcon 9 v1.1.
(Images: via L2’s SpaceX Section. Other images from SES)
(Click here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/ – to view how you can support NSF’s running costs and access the best space flight content on the entire internet)