Falcon 9 conducts static fire test ahead of the SES-12 mission

by Ian Atkinson

Only two days after their previous launch, SpaceX is already preparing their workhorse Falcon 9 rocket for its next mission by Static Firing the booster late on Thursday. This mission will involve the launch of the SES-12 satellite to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This specific rocket includes the flight-proven first stage core 1040, which launched the classified OTV-5 mission for the Air Force on September 7, 2017. Launch is scheduled for June 1 at 12:29 AM EDT.

This launch will be SpaceX’s third in May, following a successful Falcon 9 Block 5 debut on May 11 and the more recent Iridium NEXT-6/GRACE-FO launch on May 22.

The static fire test is a core component of the Falcon 9 launch campaign, which every Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicle has performed before their launch. The test is a simulation of the entire launch countdown – from rollout to a brief firing of the first stage engines – meant to ensure that the rocket and pad systems are working properly ahead of the launch.

This latest static fire test came near the end of an extended test window on Thursday (May 24), seven days before the scheduled launch.

The star of the test was the first stage core B1040. Core 1040 is a flight-proven Block 4 core, meaning that it has previously launched a mission – which was the OTV-5 mission for the Air Force in September 2017.

After passing testing at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas – which includes a full flight-duration test firing on the test stand – core 1040 was transported to Kennedy Space Center to begin preparations for the OTV-5 mission.

A Falcon 9 core on the first stage test stand at McGregor. Credit: User ScaryDare on NSF/L2

Core 1040 performed an on-pad static fire test at LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center on August 31, 2017, and launched OTV-5 to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) on September 7.

Core 1040 performed an RTLS trip home and touched down at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) just over eight minutes after liftoff.

Due to the incoming Hurricane Irma, SpaceX crews had to work around the clock to bring the booster into the LZ-1 booster refurbishment facility before the hurricane made landfall.

Falcon 9 first stage core 1040 landing at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX

Core 1040 was later refurbished in the LZ-1 facility through late 2017 and early 2018. After refurbishment was complete, core 1040 was moved to the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at SLC-40 to begin preparations for the SES-12 mission, including mating to the strongback and integration of the second stage.

After core 1040 performed its static fire, it will then be rolled back into the HIF, where the payload fairing – containing the SES-12 satellite – will be attached to the top of the second stage. It will then be rolled back out onto the launch pad for final preparations before launch.

Core 1040 will not be recovered, as SpaceX is currently phasing out the older Block 4 boosters for the upcoming increase in Block 5 launches and landings.

The payload for this mission is the SES-12 satellite, which is a communications satellite built by Airbus Defense and Space, and will be operated by SES. It has an expected lifetime of at least 15 years.

Rendering of the SES-12 satellite in orbit. Credit: SES

SES-12 will replace the older NSS-6 satellite – which was launched in 2002 on an Ariane 4 – and will work alongside SES-8 – which was also launched by SpaceX. SES-12 will be the sixth SES satellite launched by SpaceX.

The satellite was built by Airbus on their Eurostar E3000 platform and contains only electric propulsion, a very uncommon characteristic among satellites. It has 19 kW of power, provided by two large solar panels and batteries, and weighs approximately 5,400kg.

SES-12 has 76 transponders – including 54 Ku band –  with 8 antennas. It will broadcast television and other connectivity services in both Ku and Ka bands to Eurasia, Australia and Africa.

SES-12 was originally supposed to launch on an Ariane V rocket from French Guiana, however, in August 2017, SES swapped the launchers for SES-12 and SES-14. SES-14 would now take SES-12’s former vehicle, launching on an Ariane V, and SES-12 would now launch on a Falcon 9.

SES-14 launched on January 26, 2018 on an Ariane V, but the launch was a partial failure – as an error in the launcher’s software left SES-14 and its co-passenger in slightly incorrect orbits. However, both satellites were able to overcome this error using onboard thrusters.

The next launches on SpaceX’s radar are the Telstar 19V satellite and CRS-15. Telstar 19V is being launched for Telesat, a Canadian satellite communications company. That launch is scheduled for NET June 17.

CRS-15 will be an International Space Station resupply mission, which is currently slated to launch on June 28.

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