CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – On Monday, April 30, 2012, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will conduct a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket’s nine powerful Merlin engines in preparation for the company’s upcoming launch. The static fire test is targeted for 3:00 PM ET.
The nine engine test will take place at the company’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as part of a full launch dress rehearsal leading up to the second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) launch. During the rehearsal, SpaceX engineers will run through all countdown processes as though it were launch day. The exercise will end with all nine engines firing at full power for two seconds.
After the test, SpaceX will conduct a thorough review of all data as engineers make final preparations for the upcoming launch, currently targeted for May 7. SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. During the mission, Dragon’s sensors and flight systems will be subject to a series of tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station. If NASA decides Dragon is ready, the vehicle will attach to the station and astronauts will open Dragon’s hatch and unload the cargo on-board.
This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, a feat previously performed by only a few governments. “Success is not guaranteed,” said Spacex spokesperson Kirstin Brost Grantham in an email. “If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX will learn from the experience and try again.”
It is also the second demonstration flight under NASA’s program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. The first SpaceX COTS flight, in December 2010, made SpaceX the first commercial company in history to send a spacecraft to orbit and return it safely to Earth. Once SpaceX demonstrates the ability to carry cargo to the space station, it will begin to fulfill its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract for NASA for at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the space station. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the COTS and CRS missions will yield valuable flight experience toward this goal.