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New SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch hardware spotted at Cape Canaveral

Intrepid observer Joe Kelly caught important hardware changes made to LC-39A, SpaceX’s operational launch facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. These visible modifications are almost certainly being made in preparation for Falcon Heavy’s inaugural flight, which Musk stated would “hopefully [launch] towards the end of this year”.

While verging on esoteric, the modifications that were made to LC-39A so far have focused on the Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL), a massive white structure tasked with carrying Falcon 9 to and from the pad itself for static fires and launches. While the TEL at LC-39A was designed from the beginning to be structurally capable of supporting Falcon Heavy launches, a good deal of hardware must still be grafted onto it or modified. As of this weekend, it appears that significant work has begun along those lines.

Taken by Joe Kelly during a tour of Kennedy Space Center on Sunday, this photo illustrates two distinct modifications to the TEL. (Joe Kelly, Facebook)

Circled in black are two shiny new launch clamps, which are fittingly tasked with clamping hold of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. This enables SpaceX to both conduct its relatively unique static fires, and also gives the Falcon family the ability to abort launches after all main engines have ignited. Whereas Falcon 9 only requires four clamps, which can be seen in a “+” pattern in the center, Falcon Heavy will need a total of eight clamps. Conveniently, the black structure upon which the clamps are installed was designed from the start to be somewhat modular. This will allow SpaceX to more easily swap out launch clamp inserts and switch back and forth between Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 launches.

Taken by Instagram user markboers1991, this photo shows the small black wings recently added to the TEL. (markboers19991, Instagram)

Another modification, circled in red, is much smaller and far more preliminary, but it is believed that they will eventually feature cradles for Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters. Both stanchions can be seen in other recent photos of LC-39A.

Despite the seemingly small changes these new launch clamps and stanchions appear to represent, they also crucially demonstrate that SpaceX is willing and able to engage in at least some of the modifications necessary for Falcon Heavy between operational launches from the pad. Last active on September 7th for the launch of OTV-5, LC-39A will support a Falcon 9 static fire sometime this week, followed by the the launch of SES-11 on October 7th.

 

New SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch hardware spotted at Cape Canaveral

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