Falcon Heavy Static Fire Test Successful, Launch “In a Week or So”

Falcon Heavy Static Fire Test Successful, Launch “In a Week or So”

SpaceX took another step closer to launch of its Falcon Heavy (FH) rocket today with an approximately 10 second static fire test.  SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted afterwards that the test was “good” and the rocket will launch “in a week or so.”

Many onlookers tweeted photos and NASASpaceflight.com provided live video coverage. Spaceflight reporter Robin Seemangal (@nova_road) tweeted this raw video that captures not only the sight, but the sound (and unfortunately an expletive at the very end).

In a static fire test, the rocket is loaded with fuel and the engines are ignited, but the hold-down clamps that attach the rocket to the launch pad are not released, so the rocket stays in place.  This test took place at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39-A, which SpaceX leases from NASA.

Musk tweeted that the test was and good and launch would be “in a week or so.”

SpaceX tweeted its own video of the test, but it is very brief and does not include the impact of the sound wave evident in the Seemangal tweet.

The Falcon Heavy’s maximum thrust at liftoff is 5.1 million pounds or 2,300 metric tons (MT). The SpaceX website lists the payload capability as 63,800 kilograms (140,600 pounds) to low Earth orbit (LEO); 26,700 kg (58,860 lbs) to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO); 16,800 kg (37,040 lb) to Mars; or 3,500 kg (7, 720 lb) to Pluto.

Musk, who is also the founder of Tesla cars, decided to launch a cherry red Tesla Roadster as the payload on the first test flight. The company tweeted these photos of the car inside the nose cone of the Falcon Heavy. Musk wrote on Instagram that test launches usually carry mass simulators made of concrete or steel blocks, but that seemed “extremely boring” and he wanted to launch something “unusual.” Earlier he had tweeted he wanted to launch “the silliest thing” imaginable and decided it would be a Roadster playing the David Bowie hit Space Oddity. Musk’s long term goal is sending humans to Mars, the Red Planet. He said on Instagram that it would be launched into a “billion year elliptic Mars orbit.”

The most capable rocket in the world today is United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, which can place 28,370 kg (62,540 lb) into LEO or 13,810 kg (30,440 lb) into GTO.  NASA is building the Space Launch System (SLS).  In its initial configuration, it will be able to launch 70,000 kg (70 MT or 154,323 lb) to LEO, slightly more than FH.  Later versions are planned that would increase performance to 130 MT (286,600 lb), slightly more than NASA’s Apollo-era Saturn V rocket, the largest rocket built to date.

Blue Origin also is planning to build a big rocket, New Glenn, that could place 45 MT (92,208 lb) into LEO or 13 MT (28,660 lb) into GTO.

There is a question as to how many big (“heavy”) rockets are needed to meet expected demand.  Some commercial space advocates argue that NASA’s SLS is unnecessary because SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing their own rockets that will be able to launch anything NASA requires and at lower cost.  SLS advocates counter that there is no guarantee that FH or New Glenn will be successful from either a technical or financial standpoint and NASA needs assurance that it will have the launch capability it needs.  NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier takes the position that all of these rockets will be needed as NASA and its commercial and international partners move forward in the exploration and utilization of space.

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