SpaceX has successfully ignited a Block 5 variant of its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time ever, also marking the second-ever integrated static fire of the heavy-lift launch vehicle. According to SpaceX, the company will aim for an extraordinary four-day turnaround from static fire to launch, targeting liftoff as early as 6:36 pm EDT (22:36), April 9th.
Captured in a spectacular 4K video from a few miles away, it appears that the giant rocket managed to ignite all 27 Merlin 1D engines for no more than 3-4 seconds, an average length for Falcon 9 but quite a bit shorter than the 7-10 seconds Falcon Heavy fired for during its Flight 1 preparations.
During the Block 5 rocket’s first-ever integrated ignition test, all 27 Merlin 1D engines were (nominally) ignited in sequence, albeit just a handful of milliseconds apart from each other. During Falcon Heavy’s inaugural static fire and launch, CEO Elon Musk indicated that performance was capped at ~92% – 4.7 million pounds (~2115 metric tons) of thrust – for unspecified reasons. Assuming SpaceX has decided to uncap Falcon Heavy’s performance this time around, the rocket could have produced upwards of 5.6 million pounds (2550 metric tons) of thrust and will – again, according to Musk – have “way more performance than last year’s vehicle.” On top of the 8% increase from uncapping the rocket’s performance, Falcon 9 Block 5 introduced an additional 10% thrust increase for Merlin 1D engines, ultimately raising Falcon Heavy’s max thrust by a spectacular 20% in just one year.
With three times as many boosters as a single core Falcon 9 rocket, a Falcon Heavy static fire fundamentally produces as much as 100% more (2X as much) data as Falcon 9 during, requiring a fair bit more time to have engineers comb through it to verify vehicle health. The ultimate goal is for the vast majority of this work to be done by the rocket itself, which is actually what ends up shining through during what is known as the ‘quick-look review’ that shortly follows static fires, but Falcon Heavy is likely too new of a rocket for that just yet.
To temper expectations for this highly-anticipated launch, SpaceX took more than eight days to take Falcon Heavy Flight 1 from a planned static fire attempt to actual ignition, with an additional 13 days separating the successful static fire and the first official launch window. The consequences of sidestepping caution with Falcon Heavy could reach as high as the near-complete destruction of SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A pad facilities, an absolutely mission-critical foundation for the first attempted crew launch of Crew Dragon and future astronaut launches to the International Space Station (ISS). As such, any unnecessary risk itself risks raising the ire of NASA and the US government in general, as it would also fundamentally be a conscious decision to risk the stability of US access to the Space Station for the sake of shaving a few days or weeks off of a commercial launch schedule.
SpaceX typically provides an update via Twitter 15-60 minutes after a Falcon preflight static fire test to announce whether the data generally looks good or if additional time is needed to analyze the rocket’s performance. According to a since-deleted USAF 45th Space Wing tweet, a healthy-looking static fire from Falcon Heavy Flight 2 would pave the way for a launch attempt no earlier than 6:36 pm EDT (22:36 UTC), April 9th.
This article will be updated with any additional information about Falcon Heavy’s health and launch date targets as soon as it becomes available.
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