Preparations for SpaceX’s next launch completed a major milestone late on Wednesday, via the Static Fire test of the Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40 pad. This latest Falcon 9 is tasked with lofting the JCSAT-16 satellite into its Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GEO) on August 14, once again involving the first stage making a landing attempt on the drone ship.
The Falcon 9 responsible for launching JCSAT-16, F9-28, has already fired her Merlin 1D engines during a test firing at SpaceX’s McGregor test center in Texas.
Following a road trip to Cape Canaveral, engineers have been preparing the rocket for launch, which is scheduled for August 14. Liftoff is targeting a two hour launch window that opens at 01:26 local time.
Ahead of the launch day, a Static Fire is required, an event that also serves as a dress rehearsal for the launch team.
Numerous requirements have 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.
An additional element was added for Wednesday’s test, per L2 info, with a couple of holds added ahead of the terminal count to demonstrate performance during simulated window extensions.
Due to Falcon 9 now using super cooled propellent, holds after prop loading begins around T-30 minutes provide an additional challenge of keeping the prop cold enough in the run up to T-0.
With a two hour window for this upcoming launch, additional options would be helpful to the launch team.
With the required engine and vehicle data collected from the test, detanking operations follow, before the rocket is lowered on to the Transporter Erector (TE) and rolled back to the hanger.
Next up will be a data review, which will be fed into the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) – a key meeting that will ultimately confirm the launch date.
The passenger is a SSL-1300-based spacecraft, equipped with twenty-six C-band and 18 Ku-band transponders. Its flight to GTO is the primary task of the Falcon 9, although another first stage return is planned.
The Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You” was spotted departing Port Canaveral earlier in the week, along with her support ships.
Although SpaceX has been enjoying numerous landing successes this year, the effort remains experimental.
The return of JCSAT-16’s Falcon 9 S1 will aid the knowledge base via another tough landing attempt, with the high-stress, high-velocity return employing a three-engine landing burn.
The ultimate goal is to land the stages in a good condition, allowing for their eventual reuse on a future mission, before advancing that goal to numerous follow-on missions.
SpaceX remains positive that a returned stage will launch again, possibly this year, on a mission that is yet to be defined. However, the company has noted large interest from customers willing to take part in that historic mission.
Further testing towards that goal is taking place at McGregor via the use of the returned JCSAT-14 booster (F9-S1-0024).
That first stage has enjoyed three full duration static fire tests in the space of three days, despite being the booster that suffered “max damage” during its high-velocity return and landing.
That stage was taken off the test stand to allow for the F9-S1-0029 booster to undergo its own static fire ahead of its mission to launch the Amos-6 satellite. That launch is set to take place in late August, or early September.
As of this week, the Amos-6 stage was still on the test stand, but with some time until the next flight booster is scheduled to arrive it is likely the F9-S1-0024 stage will return to the stand for more test firings in the coming days.
It’s a busy period for SpaceX related activities, with the first scaled Raptor engine arriving at McGregor for a lengthy test cycle, while up in space the CRS-9 Dragon’s trunk-delivered payload will soon be removed for installation.
IDA-2 (International Docking Adaptor -2) arrived at the station on July 20 when the CRS-9 Dragon was berthed at the orbital outpost. While the pressurized section of the Dragon was ingressed to allow for the removal of tons of supplies, IDA-2 remained in the trunk section of the spacecraft.
On August 17, ground controllers will use the Canadarm2 (Space Station Remote Manipulator System) robotic arm, and its attached “Dextre” Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), to extract the IDA from the trunk of Dragon, and position it just inches away from its eventual home on PMA-2 (Pressurized Mating Adaptor -2).
Two days later, Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins will conduct the spacewalk (EVA-36) to install IDA-2 ahead of its role in hosting commercial crew vehicles.
Meanwhile, preparations are already taking place for the next Dragon to visit the Station, via the CRS-10/SpX-10 mission.
Launching on a current target date of November 11, the CRS-10 Dragon will be lofting yet more supplies to the Station, along with the SAGE-III-ISS (Instrument Platform and Nadir-Viewing Platform) and STP-H5 payloads.
As announced this week, the Dragon will also be providing the ride to the Station for the ALTAIR spacecraft, a high-performance space system for LEO, GEO and deep space missions.
Once onboard the ISS, the 6U-ALTAIR spacecraft will be launched via the NanoRacks deployment system.
(Images via NASA, SpaceX, SSL and NSF contributor).