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.