SpaceX Tests Falcon 9 Rocket for Sunday Launch from Florida – Spaceflight Now


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The Falcon 9 rocket tested its nine main Merlin engines at 9 a.m. ET (1300 GMT) on Saturday in preparation for the Starlink 4-25 mission. Credit: Spaceflight Now

SpaceX conducted a test launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s launch of the next batch of 53 of the company’s Starlink internet satellites.

Launch pad test firing was once a regular part of every SpaceX launch campaign, but the company is phasing out static fire testing for most missions as the frequency of Falcon 9 launches has increased to an average of one flight per week.

Just hours after launching a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 46 broadband Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Friday, SpaceX delivered another Falcon 9 to Kennedy Space Center pad 39A to prepare for launch on Sunday with 53 more internet relay nodes. .

But first, the SpaceX launch team prepared the rocket for static fire testing on Saturday morning.

Kerosene and liquid oxygen entered the Falcon 9 about 35 minutes before ignition. SpaceX engineers in Firing Room 4 of the Kennedy Launch Control Center oversaw and directed the operation.

The Merlin engines ran for approximately 7 seconds at 9 a.m. ET (1300 GMT) on Saturday while hydraulic hold-down clamps held the Falcon 9 on the ground. The engines revved up, producing 1.7 million pounds of thrust, briefly throwing an exhaust plume out of the fire trench.

SpaceX blew fuel from the rocket after test launches, and the company has confirmed the mission is on track for liftoff Sunday at 9:38 AM EST (13:38 GMT). The mission will be SpaceX’s 33rd launch this year and the 53rd dedicated launch for the Starlink network.

Friday’s launch from California was the 32nd Falcon 9 launch in 2022, breaking the company’s record of 31 launches per year set in 2021.

Including static firing on Saturday, SpaceX conducted test firing on the launch pad ahead of six of 33 Falcon 9 missions this year. SpaceX conducted pre-launch test firing before each Falcon 9 launch through 2020, and then gradually phased out the use of static firing.

Previously, SpaceX required a static launch every time an engine was removed between flights of one of the reusable Falcon 9 boosters. According to a report released last month by Aviation Week & Space Technology, that requirement has been changed to only perform pre-launch test launches when between missions take off three or more engines.

Static firing was originally part of every SpaceX launch campaign so engineers could identify any problems with the rocket before launch day. But SpaceX has improved its performance by launching on time as test launches have become less frequent.

The last-minute abort ahead of a scheduled California launch earlier this week was the first time a Falcon 9 launch had been canceled in a terminal countdown due to a technical issue since December 2020. SpaceX has registered 62 consecutive launches from December 2020 to this month without a countdown. an interruption caused by a problem with the rocket.

And SpaceX has completed 141 consecutive successful flights since an explosion during a static fire test in 2016 destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and Israel’s Amos 6 communications satellite.

SpaceX continues test launches of new Falcon 9 rockets at a test facility at the company’s Central Texas facility after the launch vehicles leave the Hawthorne, California plant.

A view of a stack of flat-packed Starlink satellites in orbit after a previous launch. 1 credit

The launch of the Starlink 4-25 mission on Sunday will carry the next 53 SpaceX Starlink internet satellites into low Earth orbit. Falcon 9 will lift off from Launch Pad 39A and head northeast over the Atlantic Ocean, on a course parallel to the US East Coast.

The rocket’s first stage booster will shut down approximately two and a half minutes after the start of the mission. After separating from the upper stage at the edge of space, the Falcon 9 first stage will arc towards SpaceX’s “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone, parked about 400 miles (650 km) down in the Atlantic Ocean, using cold gas engines and a titanium grid. fins to help control the flight path.

Burning the engine will slow down the missile before landing on the drone ship. The booster flying as part of the Starlink 4-25 mission, known as B1062, will go on its eighth flight into space. It debuted with the launch of the U.S. military GPS navigation satellite in November 2020, followed by the privately launched Inspiration4 and Axiom-1 missions in September 2021 and this April.

Most recently, the booster flew on June 8 along with the Egyptian geostationary communications satellite Nilesat 301.

As the first stage descends for landing on Sunday, the Falcon 9 upper stage will burn for about six minutes to lift 53 flat-packed Starlink satellites into a transfer orbit ranging from 144 miles to 210 miles (232 km by 338 km). tilt 53.2 degrees to the equator.

The reusable Falcon 9 payload fairing is jettisoned during the second burn stage. A rescue vessel is also in the Atlantic to pick up the two halves of the nose cone after they landed under parachutes.

The satellites – each weighing over a quarter of a ton – will separate from the rocket’s upper stage in T+15 minutes 24 seconds. The four retaining rods will be dropped to allow the satellites to fly freely in Falcon 9 orbit. The rods keep the spacecraft on the rocket during the ascent into space.

The Starlink satellites will deploy their solar panels and use ion propulsion to reach their operating altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers). Orbit-raising maneuvers typically take weeks to months, depending on the orbital plane assigned to each spacecraft.

SpaceX launched 2,904 Starlink satellites for Sunday’s mission, including prototypes and earlier spacecraft designs that are no longer in use. The company says its Starlink broadband service is currently available in 36 countries around the world.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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