SpaceX test-fires rocket for crew launch

SpaceX test-fired the Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday ahead of launch with the next four astronauts heading to the International Space Station. The static fire test before sunrise Saturday in Florida was a major step toward liftoff Thursday.

The Falcon 9 launch team stationed inside Firing Room 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center oversaw an automated countdown early Saturday culminating in ignition of the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT).

The kerosene-fueled engines fired for several seconds while hold-down clamps kept the 215-foot (65-meter) Falcon 9 rocket firmly on the ground at pad 39A.

SpaceX confirmed a successful static fire test later Saturday after a quick-look data review. A more detailed assessment of the Falcon 9’s performance during the test-firing will be presented to managers during a Launch Readiness Review on Tuesday.

If all looks good, officials will give approval to press on with a launch attempt at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) Thursday carrying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft and four astronauts on a mission to the International Space Station.

Developed under contact with NASA, the SpaceX crew capsule was mounted on top of the Falcon 9 for Saturday’s static fire test, but the four-person crew was not on-board.

Dragon commander Shane Kimbrough, a veteran NASA astronaut, will command the mission. Pilot Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet will join Kimbrough inside the cockpit of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The mission is the second regular crew rotation flight using SpaceX’s commercial spaceship, following the Crew-1 mission that launched in November. The Crew-2 astronauts, led by Kimbrough, will replace the Crew-1 astronauts before their return to Earth scheduled April 28.

Kimbrough, McArthur, Hoshide, and Pesquet will spend about six months living and working on the space station before coming back to Earth in late October.

The Crew-2 astronauts arrived at Kennedy Space Center on Friday to final launch preps. They are scheduled to put on their SpaceX flight suits and head to pad 39A early Sunday for a dress rehearsal for launch day.

SpaceX support teams will help the astronauts board the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft and strap the crew members into their seats, mimicking the activities they will perform Thursday during the real countdown.

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