Due to the shutdown of the U.S. government, the SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy testing has been affected. SpaceX has confirmed that civilian staffing restrictions means that the U.S. Air Force can’t static fire test the Falcon Heavy rocket.
The static fire test is an essential pre-launch trial of the rocket, which is set to launch this year. Also, the Falcon Heavy is currently considered the world’s most powerful operational rocket. The statement from the 45th Space Wing reads: “Due to the shutdown removing key members of the civilian workforce, the 45th Space Wing will not be able to support commercial static fires taking place on KSC. Without our civilian workforce, the 45th SW is unable to support launch operations as well.”
The 45th Space Wing is the department of the Air Force which supports space missions. According to The Verge, it has been unclear if the static test could be conducted without the 45th’s support, or whether the test will be postponed until the civilian staff is not restricted any longer. However, now it’s been confirmed that the static fire Falcon Heavy testing is on hold.
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“This shutdown impacts SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy demonstration, which is critical for future [national security] space missions,” John Taylor, a SpaceX spokesperson, said in a statement to The Verge. “[The shutdown] also impacts critical missions for our customers, including important international allies, scheduled to launch shortly from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base, as well as upcoming missions this spring to resupply the international Space Station.”
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy testing has already been postponed several times, while the vital test has been scheduled for later today, after a fueling test conducted yesterday, according to SpaceflightNow. During the static Falcon Heavy testing, the engines of the rocket will be fired at full thrust for a couple of seconds, while the rocket will be strapped to the launch mount. The data engineers analysis will help them prepare for the rocket’s official launch.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has the equivalent power of 18 jumbo jets at liftoff. The rocket has been made out of three Falcon 9 rockets combined together. Falcon 9 is the same type of rocket which delivers supplies to astronauts onboard the International Space Station. As such, Falcon Heavy is equipped with 27 Merlin engines. On the other hand, Falcon 9 has nine, according to SpaceX’s website.
The SpaceX team recently completed production on our 400th Merlin 1D engine—the latest iteration of SpaceX’s rocket engine that powers Falcon 9 to space. To date, SpaceX’s Merlin engines have been fired over 440 times on orbital missions and over 5,600 times in test and launch. This represents over 396,000 seconds of engine firing, enough to launch ~8 million pounds—or the equivalent of 7 International Space Stations—into orbit.
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy is capable of taking the largest payload since the Apollo lunar program’s Saturn V and can carry up to 140,660 pounds into low-Earth orbit. The Saturn V could carry 310,000.