Ahead of the 12th launch of a Cargo Dragon on August 14th, SpaceX conducted a successful static fire of the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle earlier this morning. While fans sadly did not receive the usual photo of the static fire, Core 1039 and its Dragon cargo will provide plenty of stunning visuals as they lift off on route to the International Space Station at 12:31 p.m. EST on Monday.
As reported yesterday, CRS-12 will mark the the return to orbital flights for the United States. The last U.S. launch, SpaceX’s Intelsat 35e mission, occurred on July 5th after a handful of scrubs due to difficulties with the rocket. According to Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing Commander, the U.S. Air Force group worked with SpaceX during those delays and began the semi-annual range maintenance “the very next day”, on July 6th.
With that maintenance now more or less complete, Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station can once again return to regular launches. SpaceX has as many as 11 more launches planned for the rest of 2017, following CRS-12 on Monday. Those 11 launches may include Falcon Heavy’s inaugural launch in November or December, as well as at least one more commercial first stage reuse with SES-11. SES-11, currently scheduled for an “early fourth quarter” launch, is now expected to the first launch from LC-40, which is nearing readiness after an arduous year of repairs and reconstruction.
With SpaceX’s aggressive biweekly cadence for a single pad, it is likely that there will be future down periods for range maintenance. In the past, natural cadence and launch restrictions provided the range plenty of time to conduct normal maintenance. SpaceX, however, is pushing to utilize almost all of the range’s capacity for launches, and this will mean that designated down time will be necessary to both give the Air Force Space Wing some time to rest and the ability to deal with the inevitable wear and tear that comes with rapidly launching rockets.