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Falcon 9 rocket fires engines in preflight hold-down test

Posted: February 25, 2013

SpaceX engineers hoisted a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad, filled the launcher with liquid propellant, and fired the booster's nine main engines Monday, crossing off a big item on the rocket's preflight checklist ahead of its planned launch Friday.

Photo of the Falcon 9 rocket inside the SpaceX hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: SpaceX
The Falcon 9 rocket's nine Merlin 1C engines ignited at 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT), ramping up to more than 850,000 pounds of thrust and maintaining full power for about two seconds.

"During the static fire test today, SpaceX engineers ran through all countdown processes as though it were launch day," the company said in a statement. "All nine engines fired at full power for two seconds, while the Falcon 9 was held down to the pad. SpaceX will now conduct a thorough review of all data and continue preparations for Friday's targeted launch."

The customary countdown test, called a static fire by SpaceX, is a major milestone ahead of a Falcon 9 rocket launch. The test gives the launch team a final chance to practice procedures before the real launch day, and it verifies the health and integrity of the rocket's engines, structure, ground systems, and abort functions.

The rocket remained firmly connected to the launch pad while the engines fired.

Engineers will review data from the engine firing to ensure all systems performed as designed.

With the conclusion of Monday's static fire, everything is on track for SpaceX's second operational resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Workers will lower the 157-foot-tall rocket after draining the vehicle's propellants and "safing" the two-stage launcher.

Later this week, technicians will connect the rocket's pyrotechnic ordnance and conduct final inspections on the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft.

NASA will deliver the final items of cargo for loading into the Dragon's pressurized compartment Thursday before workers close the hatch and raise the rocket atop the launch pad again in the wee hours Friday morning.

The gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule will carry 1,268 pounds of cargo to the space station in its pressurized cabin, including food, clothing, spare parts and experiments.

File photo of a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad. Credit: NASA/KSC
Liftoff is scheduled for Friday at 10:10 a.m. EST (1510 GMT) from Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The launch time is fixed to the precise instant the launch pad aligns with the trajectory of the space station orbiting more than 200 miles above Earth.

If everything goes according to plan, the unmanned Dragon spaceship will reach the space station less than 24 hours after liftoff, beginning a 23-day stay at the complex.

After astronauts unpack Dragon's supply cache and stow equipment for return to Earth, the Dragon spacecraft will depart the space station around March 25 and parachute into the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California.

The 24-day flight is part of a $1.6 billion contract between SpaceX and NASA covering 12 resupply missions to the space station, filling a void in cargo delivery capacity after the space shuttle's retirement.

SpaceX's competitor in the cargo resupply market, Orbital Sciences Corp., accomplished its first static hold-down rocket firing Friday on a launch pad at Wallops Island, Va.

Orbital Sciences plans the first test launch of its Antares rocket as soon as early April, followed by a demo flight of its Cygnus cargo craft to the space station this summer.