SpaceX announced Thursday that all flight hardware for the first launch of the Falcon 9 rocket has arrived at the SpaceX launch site, at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which I was able to see earlier this week. The final delivery included the Falcon 9 second stage, which recently completed testing at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX has now initiated full vehicle integration of the 47 meter (154 feet) tall, 3.6 meter (12 feet) diameter rocket. In an upcoming launch, possibly as early as March, SpaceX will test their the cargo- and crew-carrying ability, using a Dragon spacecraft qualification unit. Since SpaceX is poised to figure prominently in the future of human spaceflight, the upcoming test flight is crucial, both for SpaceX and NASA.
“We expect to launch in one to three months after completing full vehicle integration,” said Brian Mosdell, Director of Florida Launch Operations for SpaceX. “Our primary objective is a successful first launch and we are taking whatever time necessary to work through the data to our satisfaction before moving forward.”
Following full vehicle integration, SpaceX will conduct a static firing to demonstrate flight readiness and confirm operation of ground control systems in preparation for actual launch.
Though designed from the beginning to transport crew, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft will initially be used to transport cargo. Falcon 9 and Dragon were selected by NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) once Shuttle retires. The $1.6B contract represents 12 flights for a minimum of 20 tons to and from the ISS with the first demonstration flights beginning in 2010.