Falcon 9 static fires at SLC-40 ahead of Hispasat 30W-6 mission

by Ian Atkinson

SpaceX is readying for what will be their third mission this month, their fifth this year, which will lift the Spanish company Hispasat’s new satellite, Hispasat 30W-6 (1F), to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Launch is currently scheduled for this Sunday, lifting off from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral. As with all their past launches, SpaceX performed a pre-launch static fire test of the first stage on the launch pad on Tuesday night.

SpaceX is steadily progressing through their packed 2018 launch manifest, already preparing for their fifth launch this year.

As is usual for SpaceX launches, but is uncommon elsewhere in the launch industry, the Falcon 9 was put through a customary static fire test.

The purpose of the test is to confirm that the rocket and launch pad systems are working as expected. The test consists of a full launch simulation with the full Falcon 9 – minus its payload – on the launch pad, and the vehicle’s fuel tanks filled. The test concludes with a short firing – usually 3.5 or 7 seconds in length – of the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines. Since this is using a new booster, the engines likely fired for only 3.5 seconds.

A Falcon 9 undergoing a static fire at SLC-40, before the SES-9 mission. Credit: SpaceX

After the static fire, SpaceX engineers and controllers looked over the data collected from the firing to ensure that the vehicle performed as expected during and before the firing. After a quick review, SpaceX tweeted the test was a success. The Launch Readiness Review (LRR) will follow, which does a more in-depth analysis of all the data gathered, and the results of that then determine the exact launch date.

At the launch site, after the test firing, the Falcon 9’s fuel tanks are drained of propellant, and the stack is rolled back into the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). The payload is then mated to the vehicle, and it is once again rolled out to the launch pad.

Core 1044 on the first stage test stand in McGregor, TX. Credit: Gary Blair NSF L2.

This launch will feature a new first stage, core 1044. Core 1044 was first spotted in November 2017 when it was on the first stage test stand at SpaceX’s McGregor test facility, preparing for a much longer static fire than what is performed on the pad. First stage test fires at the McGregor facility usually range from one minute to a full flight duration.

The vehicle will be launching a spacecraft called Hispasat 30W-6, also known as Hispasat 1F, to GTO. The satellite was built by Space Systems/Loral for the Spanish company Hispasat.

Hispasat 1F will replace the older Hispasat 1D satellite, which was launched in 2002 on an Atlas IIAS rocket.

Hispasat 1F will give Ku band coverage to Europe, North Africa, and the Americas using 48 Ku transponders. It will also give Ka band coverage to southern and central Europe and northern Africa via 6 Ka beams.

The new satellite has an expected lifetime of 15 years, and is built on the SSL 1300 satellite bus.

Artist’s rendering of Hispasat 30W-6 in orbit. Credit: Hispasat

Hispasat 1F weighs 6092kg, too heavy for the first stage of the Falcon 9 to perform a landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY). Therefore, the first stage – core 1044 – is set to be expended.

Interestingly, the booster has been observed as sporting landing legs and grid fins, which may point to another test towards what Elon Musk called a “very high retrothrust landing”.

If SpaceX decides not to try landing the first stage on OCISLY, that will give them time to do any needed repairs on the drone ship following the landing failure of the center core – core 1033 – on the recent Falcon Heavy demo mission.

Two of the three landing engines on the center core failed to ignite due to a lack of ignition fluid, and crashed into the ocean approximately 100 meters next to the drone ship. The ship deck was littered with debris, and two of the ship’s engines were damaged by the explosion and debris.

It is unknown how badly damaged the drone ship is, but SpaceX will have plenty of time to make any needed repairs since the next mission that will make use of OCISLY will likely be the Bangabandhu-1 mission. It is currently scheduled to launch on March 30.

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