Falcon Heavy Debut Slips to January

Artist’s conception of a Falcon Heavy launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has slipped the maiden flight of its Falcon Heavy booster to January. The rocket, whose first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 cores with 27 engines, will lift off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  The flight will be preceded by a hold-down test on the launch pad in which all 27 first stage engines will be fired.

SpaceX had originally planned to launch the Falcon Heavy in early 2013, but the company ran into problems integrating the three first-stage cores.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 launch of a Dragon resupply ship to the International Space Station has slipped from Dec. 4 to Dec. 8. The instantaneous launch window is set for  1:20 p.m. EST (1820 GMT). The backup date is Dec. 9.

The CRS-13 will be SpaceX’s 17th launch of the year, breaking a previous record of 16 set by United Launch Alliance (ULA). It will also be the 28th launch this year by American launch providers, which leads the rest of the world by a wide margin. Russia has launched 16 times with one failure while China has 14 launches with one failure and one partial failure.

The resupply mission will mark the return to service of Pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The pad was heavily damaged when a Falcon 9 exploded while being fueled for a pre-launch engine test on Sept. 1, 2016. SpaceX will now have two active launch pads in Forida and a third at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

SpaceX has two other launches planned for December. A Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch Iridium NEXT satellites 31 to 40 on Dec. 22 from Vandenberg. The launch time is set for 8:26 p.m. EST (5:26 p.m. PST/0126 GMT on Dec. 23).

SpaceX also plans to launch the mysterious Zuma spacecraft sometime in December. The flight had been planned for mid-November, but the company said it is working an issue with the payload shroud. Little is known about the Northrop Grumman-built satellite, which is presumed to have been built for an unnamed government agency.

There is one other American launch scheduled for this year. An ULA Delta IV is schedule to loft the NROL-47 for the National Reconnaissance Office on Dec. 13 from Vandenberg. The launch window has not been announced for this flight.

If all four remaining launches on the manifest are completed next month, the United States will finish the year with 31 launches. The number of launches worldwide could be in the mid-90’s by the end of the year.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Hey! That’s the rule and custom! All powerful rocket launches MUST be subject to delays!…You have better odds winning at the card game blackjack than seeing a powerful rocket launch on time, on schedule from day one.

  • I remember when it was supposed to launch in 2013! Those were the days…

  • publiusr

    If this had been an SLS delay–they’d be a lot of piling on at this point.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yea, only if SpaceX smoked 12 billion dollars to develop it.

  • publiusr

    Like Apollos–it is called infrastructure. No ARPANET–no Paypal either. Hidden costs there.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Compare NASA’s SLS-Orion delays to those of the FH! Tell me! Which is worse?

  • Vladislaw

    ya but .. the SLS is not supposed to actually fly …

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Ha! Apollo wasn’t “infrastructure” and neither is SLS, unless you count the bridge to nowhere as infrastructure.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    They’re about the same so far. However Falcon has proved itself on so many other fonts …. If development stopped now, it would be the most amazing launch vehicle since the 80’s.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Delay all you want Space X, you’ve had a great 2017, if you stopped now it would be a great year. We’ll likely only see two more launches this year. It’s been a great year.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I agree, SLS is executing its mission right now. It has been since the program was started.

  • I for one am glad for the delay. Airfare tickets will be lower in January than Christmas time.

  • Not Invented Here

    Every SLS delay costs taxpayers billions, they have a right to pile on. FH is developed entirely using SpaceX’s own money, the only people piling on would be their customers and board members.

  • Not Invented Here

    It’s overly expense, out-dated infrastructure. SLS is like government spending billions to rebuild the original ARPANET today, while private sector is already using fiber optics and 5G.

  • therealdmt

    Good luck with your inflatable lander thing

  • therealdmt

    Shocking news!
    /s

    Still, it looks like it’ll get out on the pad in December. In many ways, the test firing itself (and surviving the test firing) will be a biggie, and we still may get that done this year.

    Staying tuned…

  • Jeff2Space

    While true their slippage might look similar on a calendar, compare how much cash each is burning through during their development.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    True, but I’d just add that blowing cash is really what SLS is about, in my opinion. It has no real payloads, and is part of no real program to use it.

  • Jeff2Space

    SLS truly is the launcher to nowhere.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And how many prototype aircraft have had their first flight on schedule? Or steam engines if you want to go further back in time. New vehicles usually take longer than expected.

  • windbourne

    FH has not cost taxpayers any money. SLS/Orion have cost us 10s of billions.

    SLS is far worse.

  • windbourne

    We taxpayers have paid 10s of billions for SLS, while FH has not cost us a cent.

  • Michael Halpern

    You know a thought occurred to me about FH, what if they developed a modified trunk for Dragon with landing legs and minimal propulsion? It could even just be cargo for the standard truck,

  • Thanks!

    Have you checked out the broader plan at SpaceDevelopment.org? I would be interested in your thoughts.

  • Michael Halpern

    Closer to actual completion the shorter the delays get, in this case it’s likely the fearing problem that scrubbed the Zuma launch that has subsequently delayed the final modifications to the transporter erector launcher that caused the slippage.

  • Michael Halpern

    I think it’s the delays caused by ZUMA and the shroud problem that subsequently delayed the final modifications to the TEL that forced the launch into January, which isn’t a bad reason for the delay, it’s a result of them being responsible and careful when carrying out their contracts in the launch industry one of the worst things you can do is have a QA related failure, upside-down accelerometers and failure to deploy the shroud are 2 common ones.

  • Douglas Messier

    Zuma probably delayed things. But, I don’t think the launch a brand new booster in the week between Christmas and New Year’s was ever a very realistic plan. You don’t want to be doing that with personnel who probably badly need a break by that point after a record year of launches. Give them some time off to recharge and start fresh in the new year. You’re FIVE YEARS behind schedule as it is.

    I don’t care how much Elon downplays the chances of a successful launch, this is something you don’t want to eff up. If they have an Antares-style failure just above
    the pad, the consequences would be pretty bad. Half their launch capability on the East Coast would be down once again, they’d have to spend money and time repairing the damage, and the crew Dragon flight schedule could be delayed significantly.

  • Michael Halpern

    You know I have to wonder what a successful FH launch will do to SLS… I mean it’s a moon rocket at the cost of an Atlas V launch roughly

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Ditto.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Sigh! It’s been a slow news week! … There’s been more ‘news’ on a flat-earther wanting to launch himself on a home-made rocket (I hope he doesn’t bump his head against the crystal firmament where the fixed stars are. OUCH!), and the private company, Moon Express claiming there will be a Moon base in 5 years (are they trying hard to get a bad reputation like ARCA?)….l mentioned these things because? Elon Musk is having a tweet war with the flat-earthers and paying little attention to your impatience regarding Falcon Heavy’s debut. Falcon Heavy’s debut will, I promise you, be LOUD and POWERFUL and will rattle those Congressional seats of those pork-barreling Congressmen, women and whatever trying to pour more billions into NASA’s SLS-Orion project.

  • Paul451

    about FH, what if they developed a modified trunk for Dragon with landing legs and minimal propulsion?

    If your first paragraph relates to the second, do you mean Dragon as a lunar lander? Then no. If you mean to land and return humans, then really no.

    The delta-v required to land on the moon from LLO is around 2-2.4km/s. Landing from and returning to LLO is roughly 4km/s. Landing from LLO, then returning directly to Earth is around 5km/s, IIRC.

    The delta-v available for the Superdracos is around half a km/s. You’d need vastly, vastly more propellant. Just to land, no return, you need about 6 times the propellant mass. You might be able to fit it in the capsule, although it would eat up half your internal space, plus require plumbing changes.

    The land/return version would require about 30 tonnes of propellant, not only taking up the entire volume of the capsule plus trunk, but greatly exceeding FH’s ability to launch the capsule beyond LEO.

    In which case, you might as well bite the bullet and design a dedicated lander around a higher Isp engine like Merlin, or even Raptor. Plus refuelling in LEO.

  • Michael Halpern

    Didn’t know the math behind it, still 2 expendable FHs or 1 expendable and however many reusable FHs it takes to get a landing module up would still be cheaper, easier and probably faster than doing such a mission with SLS…

  • publiusr

    I’m a taxpayer–and I like to see the spin offs and the fact that folks have jobs from something other than weapons. That’s the USA I want.

  • publiusr

    No LH2 capability.

  • Michael Halpern

    So? Is that really such a significant problem in virtually any mission?

  • publiusr

    Your right–no need for good specific impulse, eight?

  • Michael Halpern

    the Merlin ISP in vacuum is 348 sec, sure you can get more out of LH2, but LH2 is also less dense meaning your tanks are heavier and larger and generate more drag on liftoff, what matters is if it can get the job done, not how it does it, The FH can do virtually all the things SLS can, in a smaller, far less expensive package.