Photo Gallery: Falcon 9 Now Vertical on the Launchpad

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Is the future here? Over the weekend, SpaceX rolled their Falcon 9 launch vehicle out to the launchpad at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral. If all systems check out, SpaceX looks to do an engine test sometime this week, which should provide some dramatic rumbling and shaking here in Florida. The rocket measures 47 meters long (154 feet) and 4 meters (12 feet) wide, and for the upcoming test launch (date currently not set), the payload will be a dummy of the company’s Dragon capsule being developed to carry equipment to the International Space Station for NASA.

Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX

The word around Cape Canaveral is that the range has been reserved for March 8, but SpaceX won’t provide any specific potential launch dates; instead giving a range of sometime between March and May. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said the Range date is “just a placeholder for the earliest possible countdown attempt.” In an article in Spaceflightnow.com, Musk said the launch likely won’t occur until April at the earliest.

SpaceX said that Falcon 9 is now undergoing a checkout of the critical flight connections including fuel, liquid oxygen, and gas pressure systems. Once all system interfaces are verified, the launch team will execute a full tanking test of both first and second stages (wet dress) followed by a brief ~3.5 static fire of the first stage. “SpaceX has not set specific dates for wet dress or static fire as schedule will be driven by the satisfactory completion of all test objectives and a thorough review of the data,” the company said in a press release.

Here’s a look at the launch complex 40.

Launch comples 40. Credit: SpaceX

Falcon 9 Flight Hardware Arrives at Cape Canaveral

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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.”

Flight hardware for the inaugural launch of Falcon 9 rocket undergoing final integration in the hangar at SpaceX's Cape Canaveral launch site in Florida. Components include: Dragon spacecraft qualification unit (left), second stage with Merlin Vacuum engine (center), first stage with nine Merlin 1C engines (right). Credit: SpaceX

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.
Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), in Cape Canaveral. Credit: Nancy Atkinson

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.

Source: SpaceX

A Tale of Two Launches

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While space shuttle Endeavour’s launch on Monday was scrubbed –again — due to weather, another launch took place later, which successfully launched the first commercial payload on board a rocket built by a commercial space company. SpaceX launched their Falcon 1 rocket from Omelek Island at Kwajalein Atoll to put a Malaysian RazakSAT satellite in a near equatorial orbit. SpaceX was able to overcome troubles with a helium system as well as bad weather, both of which caused delays. But eventually, the Falcon 1 launched flawlessly.

This was the second successful launch in five tries for the Falcon 1 rocket. Later this year. SpaceX hopes to launch its larger Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral

Space shuttle Endeavour stands on Launch Pad 39A after weather prevented Monday's scheduled liftoff. Image credit: NASA TV
Space shuttle Endeavour stands on Launch Pad 39A after weather prevented Monday's scheduled liftoff. Image credit: NASA TV

Meanwhile, for the second day in a row, thunderstorms near the Kennedy Space Center forced a scrub for Endeavour and her crew. It was the fifth delay for the STS-127 mission, going back to a hydrogen leak which delayed the launch in June.

NASA has decided to pass up a Tuesday launch opportunity, and try for a sixth launch attempt Wednesday July 15 at 6:03:10 p.m. EDT. The weather looks like it has a better chance of allowing a launch (60 percent chance of good weather as opposed to a 40 percent chance on Tuesday), plus the extra day will give .
engineers a chance to repair a rocket thruster rain cover came loose.

Delaying the shuttle launch may mean rescheduling when a Progress resupply ship can dock to the space station. If it launches as scheduled on July 24, it needs to dock by July 29.