Falcon 9 booster fires up as astronauts visit SpaceX Fleet

by Chris Bergin

SpaceX has successfully static fired its latest Falcon 9 booster ahead of what was to be a weekend launch – prior to a 24 hour slip to allow for additional checkouts – from Cape Canaveral. The test was conducted as SpaceX’s astronaut corp was visiting the company’s fleet of ships at Port Canaveral.

SpaceX is returning to launch action after the successful lofting of the Merah Putih nearly a month ago.

The latest SpaceX mission – with the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite – involves a new Block 5 booster, B1049.1, which is set to follow in the footsteps of another Block 5 that launched Telstar 19 Vantage in July.

Telstar 18 Vantage/Apstar-5C was set to launch last month. However, due to unspecified reasons – likely relating to the satellite’s readiness – the launch was pushed out to its latest target, which is September 8, with the four-hour window opening at 23:28 EDT.

However, this launch date has slipped again, albeit for just 24 hours to the 9th.

The Static Fire test – a required full dress rehearsal for the rocket, pad systems and launch control teams – was conducted at the opening of Wednesday’s test window at 10 AM local time.

SpaceX confirmed the test was successful – per what they call a “Quick Look” review that mainly checks the performance of the nine Merlin 1D engines during the short firing sequence – allowing the company to tweet confirmation of the launch date.

Per the post-test flow, the booster is then detanked and rolled back to the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at SLC-40 for payload integration. Notable, the booster was still vertical on SLC-40 as of Friday morning, before finally returning to a horizontal position for rollback after around 9 AM local. This may have been related to the additional checkouts.

A Launch Readiness Review (LRR) will be conducted around 24 hours ahead of the launch window providing the final green light to rollout the integrated rocket and prepare for the launch countdown events.

This will be another heavy payload for the Falcon 9, with the mass classed as 7,060 kg. However, this is slightly less than its Vantage 19V sister satellite.

Telstar 18V telecommunications satellite is based on SSL’s 1300 platform and is expected to have a service life of 15 years.

The booster still has enough performance to return for a landing on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” which was seen departing Port Canaveral on Tuesday.

It will take up station downrange from the Cape, ready to “catch” the returning booster, which will be secured on deck by a robot nicknamed “OctaGrabber“. The booster will be returned to Port for recovery processing ahead of being assigned a future flight.

Notably, there was some additional excitement at Port Canaveral on Wednesday when the SpaceX astronaut corp was spotted taking a tour around SpaceX’s large amount of ships.

SpaceX astronauts touring the SpaceX fleet – photos by Julia Bergeron

The crew – recently selected and presented at a flagship NASA event – are set to launch on Dragon 2 spacecraft starting next year.

The first mission (DM-2) is highly likely to be the first crewed mission to take place on American vehicles since the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in 2011.

The SpaceX fleet at Port Canaveral will be involved with the recovery of Dragon 2 at the conclusion of the mission, along with the recovery of the Falcon 9 booster that will be utilized to loft the spacecraft on launch day. The Dragon also has the option to splashdown into the Pacific, as such using the West Coast SpaceX fleet, as is the situation with Cargo Dragon returns.

The East Coast fleet will also be used to recover the SpaceX astronauts in the event of a problem either before (via a pad abort) – or shortly after – (via an in-flight abort) – launch. Both scenarios result in the Dragon 2 aborting to an Atlantic ocean splashdown.

Go Searcher and Go Navigator would be likely contenders to play a role in such a recovery, with both ships now sporting similar appearances, thanks to a fresh application of paint.

The “Go” ships hosted the astronauts during the tour, although due to the earlier departure of OCISLY to head to its booster recovery position for the weekend’s mission, the crew missed out on meeting the East Coast Drone Ship and its booster grabbing robot.

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