Three weeks after the building-sized rocket was spotted on its way to Texas, SpaceX’s next new Falcon Heavy ‘center core’ has gone vertical at the company’s rocket testing headquarters.
Spotted by a local resident on February 25th after hearing an exceptionally loud (“house shak[ing]”) static fire the night prior, the Falcon Heavy booster may have been responsible for that commotion. All three Falcon Heavy cores and “single-stick” Falcon 9 boosters use the same setup of nine Merlin 1D engines and offer more or less identical performance on their own, so Wednesday’s unusually loud tests were probably just a fluke of atmospheric attenuation.
Still, SpaceX’s Falcon booster static fires are likely the loudest tests it performs at McGregor, making Falcon Heavy center core B1065 (or B1066) the most obvious culprit. If that’s the case and the last of the latest batch of three new Falcon Heavy boosters has been successfully qualified with a full-duration static fire, SpaceX is firmly on track for the rocket’s next launch.
As previously discussed on Teslarati, a US Space Force spokesperson recently spoke with Spaceflight Now, revealing a slight delay from late-May or June to July 2021 for Falcon Heavy’s fourth launch. Known as USSF-44, the mystery mission could be followed by another Falcon Heavy launch – USSF-52 – as early as October 2021, a turnaround that seems improbable without USSF-44 side booster reuse or a major uptick in booster production and testing.
The center core now vertical at SpaceX’s McGregor campus was previously spotted making its way through East Texas on February 3rd, representing a fairly quick turnaround if the booster did perform a static fire just three weeks later.
SpaceX could be ready to send the booster onwards to Florida in early March if that brisk pace continues, leaving a comfortable amount of time to complete, test, and deliver Falcon Heavy Flight 4’s payload fairing and expendable upper stage. The mission will debut Falcon Heavy’s expendable-center-core configuration, meaning that at least one more new center core will be headed through McGregor within the next few months if the rocket’s Flight 5 (USSF-52) schedule is to hold.