SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket has been flexing its muscles ahead of a scheduled launch this weekend.
SpaceX just conducted a “static fire” test with the Falcon Heavy on Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, firing up the first stage rocket’s 27 Merlin engines 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 a launch in the near future.
“Falcon Heavy static fire completed for entire duration; target no earlier than Saturday, January 14 for launch of USSF-67 mission from Florida.” SpaceX announced this via Twitter on Tuesday (opens in new tab) (January 10), in a post that also included a photo of the static fire.
Related: Why SpaceX hasn’t flown a Falcon Heavy rocket since 2019
As the mission name suggests, Falcon Heavy will fly USSF-67 for the US Space Force. The country’s newest military branch was also the customer for the recent 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. According to SpaceNews, USSF-67 will also target GEO and launch a military communications satellite and a spacecraft capable of transporting six small satellites to that relatively distant destination (opens in new tab).
USSF-44 was the first Falcon Heavy mission since June 2019. That long gap was primarily due to delays in the delivery of customer payloads, according to space industry analysts.
The Falcon Heavy consists of three first stages of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket strapped together. The central booster is crowned by an upper stage that carries the payloads.
Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy first stages are reusable. The two side boosters on USSF-67 are being reused by USSF-44 and attempting to land again for future reuse, according to SpaceNews. The central core of USSF-67 is new and will not attempt a landing Saturday, SpaceNews reported.
The scheduled launch on Saturday will continue a busy stretch for SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company launched 40 internet satellites for London-based OneWeb on Monday evening (January 9) and plans to deploy 51 of its own Starlink broadband ships on Tuesday evening.
Additionally, SpaceX’s Dragon robotic cargo pod departed the International Space Station on Monday to return to Earth. Dragon is scheduled to land off the coast of Florida on Wednesday (January 11), completing SpaceX’s CRS-26 resupply mission for NASA.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).