SpaceX static fire next Falcon 9 – another flight proven booster

by Chris Bergin

SpaceX has conducted a static fire test on the next Falcon 9 to launch from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), a launch that will mark the second time a “flight proven” booster will have used to launch a satellite. The passenger, BulgariaSat-1, is currently scheduled to depart Pad 39A on June 19, with the booster attempting to make a second return to a Drone Ship.

Static Fire Test:

The latest launch is set to take place just over two weeks since the previous Falcon 9 liftoff – which saw the successful lofting of the CRS-11 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS).

A clue to the current flow timelines was provided by the initial slip of the launch date for BulgariaSat-1 by two days, directly reflecting the 48-hour impact of the weather-related scrub during CRS-11’s first launch attempt. That launch date target has since slipped two more days, for reasons that are currently unknown.

SpaceX was hoping to conduct the hot fire test on Tuesday evening. However, with the Transport/Erector/Launcher (TEL) still on the pad ramp earlier in the day, a delay to the firing was always likely. L2 KSC scheduling then confirmed a one day slip to the test – albeit without impacting on the launch date at that time.

A further slip to the Static Fire target date – to Thursday – was accompanied by a two-day slip to the launch date. SpaceX is now hoping to launch BulgariaSat-1 within a two-hour launch window that opens at 14:10 on Monday, with the same window available on Tuesday as a backup date.

In order to press towards the Monday opportunity, SpaceX was required to conduct a Static Fire test of the booster. The window for this test opened at 6 pm Eastern and ran through to midnight had it been required.

SpaceX has recently been conducting their hot fire tests near to the opening of the window, aided by smooth preparations ahead of the firing. This test was conducted only around 15 minutes into the window – and was latest confirmed as good by SpaceX.

The Static Fire test is used to validate the health of the launch vehicle, allowing for SpaceX management to approve the final flow to launch day.

Numerous requirements have to be successfully proven via such a test, such as engine ignition and shut down commands, which have to operate as designed, and that the Merlin 1D engines perform properly during start-up. It also serves as a full dress rehearsal for the launch team.

Following the test, the booster was detanked, safed and – eventually – returned to a horizontal position on the TEL ahead of the short trip back down the 39A Ramp into the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) where it will be mated with its payload and prepared for launch day.

During this period a quick look review – in the hours after the firing – followed by the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) – which took place on Friday evening – were conducted by the SpaceX team. The vehicle remained erect at the pad longer than normal due to poor weather in the area, which included strong winds. The vertical configuration was deemed the most secure until the weather passed.

For this booster, named 1029.2, it – as its numbering suggests – will be launching for a second time.

Its role with SpaceX has already seen it conduct a static fire test at SpaceX’s McGregor test site in Texas, before another firing at its Vandenberg launch site ahead of what was the Return To Flight mission at the start of the year, successfully lofting the first Iridium NEXT flight.

Landing on the West Coast Drone Ship “Just Read The Instructions”, the booster has been refurbished and ready to fire up again.

As with the previous “flight proven” booster, this static fire test will involve a slightly longer firing, with documentation showing its nine Merlin 1D engines will be fired for seven seconds in duration.

Now making its debut on the East Coast, this booster will be aiming to conduct a second launch, ahead of landing on SpaceX’s other Drone Ship “Of Course I Still Love You”.

The OCISLY – and her support ships – departed from Port Canaveral on Wednesday. This landing – though unconfirmed – may potentially include the first test of the “OctoGrabber” robot. The robot was observed being put through its paces earlier this week.

Although it has yet to be given an official name – and has been named as the ‘Roomba’ and even ‘Optimus Prime’ – the robot has its own garage on deck from which it will be released to secure the landed booster on the deck.

This procedure will avoid the need to “weld” the feet of the landing legs to the deck to keep it secure as the booster conducts its sea journey onboard the ASDS back to Port Canaveral.

While SpaceX booster landings have captured the public imagination, the primary goal of this mission is to safely loft the paying customer to space.

The passenger, BulgariaSat-1, will provide DTH services and fixed satellite services in the Balkans and other European regions to help meet the growing demand for telecommunications services.

BulgariaSat-1 – built on the SSL 1300 satellite bus – is equipped with two Ku-band FSS transponders and 30 Ku-band BSS transponders for fixed satellite services and advanced television services such as high definition television.

While this launch campaign is proceeding, a separate launch team is deep into preparations for SpaceX’s following launch with the second set of Iridium NEXT satellites.

That launch remains on track at Vandenberg Air Force Base for June 25, with the Static Fire test currently scheduled for June 20 – just a day after the East Coast Falcon 9 launches with BulgariaSat-1.

(Images: SpaceX, SSL and L2 – including a large collection of photos from this launch campaign via Brady Kennison for

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