SpaceX’s mighty Falcon Heavy rocket flexed its muscles ahead of a scheduled liftoff this weekend.
SpaceX just conducted a “static fire” test with the Falcon Heavy at Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, igniting all 27 Merlin engines on the rocket’s first stage while the vehicle remained anchored to the ground.
Static fires are common pre-launch tests for SpaceX, and the Falcon Heavy is indeed preparing for liftoff in the near future.
“Falcon Heavy Full Duration Static Firing Completed; targeting no earlier than Saturday January 14 for the launch of the USSF-67 mission from Florida”, SpaceX said via Twitter on Tuesday (opens in a new tab) (January 10), in a post that also featured a photo of the static fire.
Related: Why SpaceX hadn’t flown a Falcon Heavy rocket since 2019
As the mission name suggests, Falcon Heavy will fly the USSF-67 for the US Space Force. The country’s newest military branch was also the customer for the last Falcon Heavy flight, called USSF-44, which launched on November 1, 2022.
USSF-44 sent a handful of classified payloads into geostationary orbit (GEO), approximately 22,200 miles (35,700 kilometers) above Earth. USSF-67 will also target GEO, launching a military communications satellite and a spacecraft capable of carrying six small satellites to that relatively remote destination, according to SpaceNews. (opens in a new tab).
USSF-44 was the first Falcon Heavy mission since June 2019. The long gap was mainly due to delays in preparing customer payloads, according to space industry analysts.
The Falcon Heavy consists of three first stages strapped together from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The central booster is surmounted by an upper stage, which carries the payloads.
Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy first stages are designed to be reusable. Both side thrusters from USSF-67 will be reused from USSF-44, according to SpaceNews, and will attempt to land again for future reuse. The USSF-67 core is new and will not attempt to land on Saturday, SpaceNews reported.
Saturday’s scheduled liftoff will continue a busy time for SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company launched 40 internet satellites for London-based OneWeb on Monday evening (January 9) and plans to launch 51 of its own Starlink broadband gear on Tuesday evening.
Additionally, SpaceX’s Dragon robotic cargo capsule left the International Space Station on Monday to descend back to Earth. Dragon is scheduled to splash down off the coast of Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 11, ending SpaceX’s CRS-26 resupply mission for NASA.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) or Facebook (opens in a new tab).