SpaceX’s rocket stages are deep into their test and processing flows, ahead of two missions currently set to take place in April. Both missions are at opposite ends of their test flows at SpaceX’s test site in McGregor, Texas – with CRS-8 hardware set to depart for Florida while the Falcon 9 first stage tasked with the launch of JSCAT-14 prepares for a test firing.
Since purchasing the site from Beal Aerospace, the facility has grown in size to over 4,000 acres, highlighted by numerous test stands for stages and engines.
The site’s growth is continuing, with additional facilities currently being built. A large hangar building is currently under construction, as seen via photos taken at the weekend (L2 McGregor).
This building likely to include and increase the capability for core storage, not least as SpaceX prepares to ramp up testing to cater for an increasing launch rate of Falcon 9 rockets, along with the addition this year of the Falcon Heavy.
The Falcon Heavy will require her three first stages to be tested one at a time on the main test stand at McGregor.
This mission also saw the first stage safely return home, marking the first successful landing of a Falcon 9 first stage.
The CRS-8 mission will return the spacecraft to resupply operations via her first ride on the upgraded Falcon 9. Launch has been set for April 8, which has an instantaneous window targeting 16:43 Eastern.
Dragon’s pressurized section will be lofting an array of science research, crew supplies and hardware in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.
Her trunk will be carrying the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) ahead of its installation on the orbital outpost.
The launch of BEAM will allow Bigelow and NASA to demonstrate the inflatable habitat’s capabilities on ISS. It is expected to perform at least two years of testing on the Station, providing a key shake out of the technology that is likely to play a major role in human deep space exploration.
The McGregor leg of testing towards this mission suffered an incident during follow-up testing after the stage had successfully completed a full-duration static fire. A GSE (Ground Support Equipment)-related incident resulted in damage to most of first stage’s engine nozzles, which have since been repaired.
The first stage is expected to arrive her SLC-40 launch site at Cape Canaveral this week, ahead of the final processing flow towards launch. This stage will also be involved with the latest attempt to land on the deck of “Of Course I Still Love You”.
With the SES-9 mission profile calling for a different first stage return approach than had previously been employed – one that included an alternative set of multiple engine burns – SpaceX had already noted it was unlikely to result in a successful landing.
Photos of the ASDS returning to port showed the high-velocity impact had resulted in damage on deck, including a large hole (ASDS Thread Photos).
However, engineers were soon working on repairing the ship soon after the ASDS had docked at Port Canaveral, with the aim of being ready in time to try and catch the CRS-8 first stage upon its return.
Meanwhile, the hardware associated with the mission that is set to follow CRS-8 is also now undergoing testing at McGregor.
The first stage destined to be used during the JCSAT-14 launch was spotted during transit near Abilene in Texas by a NASASpaceFlight.com L2 member.
The stage was seen parked with its security escort on March 8, ahead of completing the remaining 175-mile journey to the test site. Earlier stages have been spotted – usually by one of SpaceX’s legion of fans – during their transit from California to Texas and Texas to Florida on numerous occasions.
The JCSAT-14 stage (understood to have the designation F9-0024-S1) was photographed on the test stand at McGregor this weekend (L2 McGregor). It will undergo numerous tests, to be highlighted by the full-duration static fire of its nine Merlin 1D engines.
Providing all goes well, the stage will be removed from the stand and prepared for a road trip to Cape Canaveral.
The spacecraft it will be involved with launching is already at the Cape, having arrived on the space coast earlier this month.
The huge JCSAT-14 satellite will replace and expand on the capacity of JCSAT-2A at the 154 degrees East longitude orbital slot.
JCSAT-14 marks the 102nd “1300 platform” satellite that Space Systems Loral (SSL) has delivered. SSL is also building JCSAT-15 and JCSAT-16 which are both scheduled to launch in 2016.
The satellite is designed to provide service for broadcast, data networks, and internet connectivity for maritime and aviation for 15 years or longer.
“It has been an honor to work together with SKY Perfect JSAT in building the JCSAT-14 satellite,” said John Celli, president of SSL. “We are very pleased that the satellite is now at launch base and look forward to a successful launch campaign.”
The satellite is currently being prepared for launch vehicle integration at SpaceX’s PPF (Payload Processing Facility) which is the former USAF SPIF (Spacecraft Processing and Integration Facility) in the SMAB (Solid Motor Assembly Building).
(Images: via SpaceX, SSL, “Craig_VG” ASDS Thread and L2 (John Cooke, Mark (“thenutti”) and L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full hi-res gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)
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