#Falcon 9 rocket rumbles through pre-flight engine firing

File photo of a static fire test before a previous Falcon 9 launch. Credit: SpaceX
File photo of a static fire test before a previous Falcon 9 launch. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX technicians planned to connect a Japanese communications satellite to the tip of a Falcon 9 rocket as soon as Thursday, eyeing a launch from Cape Canaveral just after midnight Sunday.

Fixed on top of Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad without its payload, the Falcon 9 completed a customary pre-flight “static fire” test Wednesday night. The multi-hour exercise began with the 600-foot (nearly 200-meter) rollout of the two-stage rocket from SpaceX’s hangar, then the launcher rotated vertical to receive its load of liquid propellants.

In the mock countdown’s final minutes, control computers sent commands to pressurize the Falcon 9’s propellant tanks, then ignited the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines for a few seconds while the vehicle stayed grounded.

SpaceX engineers planned to review data from the static fire test before issuing a “go” for final launch preps during a launch readiness review.

Once ground crews attach the JCSAT 16 communications satellite to the Falcon 9 upper stage, the rocket will emerge from SpaceX’s hangar again Saturday for the final countdown.

Liftoff is of the 23-story-tall Falcon 9 is scheduled for 1:26 a.m. EDT (0526 GMT) Sunday at the opening of a two-hour launch window. The rocket will deploy the JCSAT 16 telecom payload into a “supersynchronous” transfer orbit, putting the satellite on course to reach a final operating post nearly 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above the equator.

At that altitude, JCSAT 16’s motion through space will exactly match the rate of Earth’s rotation, allowing the satellite to remain over the same spot of the planet.

Made by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California, JCSAT 16 will become a spare satellite for SKY Perfect JSAT Corp., a Tokyo-based company which provides broadcast relay capacity over the Asia-Pacific.

Forecasters from the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predict near-ideal weather for the Falcon 9’s middle-of-the-night launch opportunity. There is a 90 percent chance of acceptable conditions in the Air Force’s official launch weather outlook.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

from Spaceflight Now ift.tt/2bazA9F

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