Falcon 9 set for CRS-14 mission completes Static Fire testing

by Chris Bergin

SpaceX has conducted the milestone Static Fire test on the Falcon 9 set to launch the CRS-14 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS). The test occurred a few hours into the six hour test window that opened at 11 AM Eastern at Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40.

The latest CRS mission will once again involve hardware that highlights SpaceX’s skill at reusability.

CRS-14 will use a flight-proven booster (B1039.2) lofting a previously flown Dragon capsule (C110.2). While the Dragon was involved with the CRS-8 mission, the booster launched the CRS-12 mission.

CRS-12 launch from 39A at KSC – via NASA

The duo will combine to loft 2,647 kg of upmass to the orbital outpost, of which 1,721 kg is pressurized cargo for the ISS, while 926 kg is unpressurized and located in the trunk section of the Dragon.

Preparations for the arrival of the Dragon are already taking place on the ISS. This included a checkout of the Global Positioning System (GPS) Ancillary Data Checkout.

“With the recent update to GPS Ancillary Data (GAD) version 3 (v3), SpaceX requested an on-orbit checkout prior to the SpaceX-14 mission,” noted ISS Status Updates. “The test mitigates risk, as the COTS UHF Communication Unit (CUCU) / GAD interface could not be fully tested on the ground.  Initial results from the test indicated the GADv3 upgrade was deployed successfully and CUCU is capable of processing the data.”

The CUCU is a vital communication link between the ISS and arriving Dragons.

The SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System), which will grab the Dragon for berthing operations, was also checked out. Of interest are the Latching End Effectors (LEEs) following on from the replacement and maintenance work that was conducted during a series of EVAs last month.

Despite the hard work that took place between ground controllers and the spacewalkers, problems are still being evaluated with LEE A.

SSRMS LEE during last month’s EVA-48 – via NASA TV

“Latching End Effector (LEE) A Degraded Snare – During a survey of LEE A, one of the snare cables was found to be damaged,” added ISS Status information. “CSA (Canadian Space Agency) analysis predicts load limit exceedances for certain SpaceX-14 capture scenarios. Ground teams are coordinating to determine the forward path for SpaceX-14 capture operations.”

The SSRMS has since been “walked off” to prepare to support Thursday’s EVA, with no further notes provided on issues with the LEE that could impact the berthing of the Dragon. As such, an internal plan for CRS-14’s berthing is likely to have been approved. Controllers always have numerous options to ensure the Dragon is safely captured by the SSRMS.

Interestingly, a spare LEE is expected to ride to the Station on the following Dragon mission, CRS-15, as was always part of the long-term planning.

Dragon capture at the ISS – via NASA

The arrival of the CRS-14 Dragon will only occur if all milestones are met with the Falcon 9 rocket, with the Static Fire test providing a dress rehearsal for the big day.

The results of the short firing of the Merlin 1D engines passed the quick look review, marked by SpaceX tweeting confirmation of the test, the following Launch Readiness Review (LRR) will confirm the launch date while Dragon is being mated with the Falcon 9 inside the SLC-40 Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF).

The launch date is currently targetting April 2, with a T-0 of 4:30 PM Eastern time. As per usual for Falcon 9/Dragon missions to the ISS, the launch is tied to an instantaneous window.

The recent slip to the Iridium NEXT-5 mission involving another Falcon 9, this time on the West Coast, will not impact on the CRS-14 launch date. The Falcon 9 at Vandenberg passed its recent Static Fire test, with the delay relating to one of the 10 satellites that will launch out of SLC-4E. Initially, the delay was at least two days, with the potential to slip into next week, before being reined back to just a one day delay.

In the event of the launch date eventually slipping to the same day as the CRS-14 mission, it is possible for SpaceX to conduct two missions on the same day thanks to separate teams for each launch site.

Iridium NEXT-5 and CRS-14 will be followed by two more missions in April, with NASA’s high profile Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission set for an April 16 launch from SLC-40, followed by the debut of the Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket with Bangabandhu-1.

The communications satellite is preparing to depart from Nice Airport bound for Florida ahead of a current NET (No Earlier Than) launch date of April 24. The launch will take place from Pad 39A at KSC, which is returning to Falcon 9 launches after hosting the historic maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket.

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