SpaceX Gears Up for Static Fire Test in Preparation for Fifth Falcon Heavy Launch of 2023 – Spaceflight Updates

Witness the Falcon Heavy for the USSF 52 mission housing the U.S. military’s X-37B spaceplane inside the hangar at launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Image: SpaceX.

Get ready for an exciting Falcon Heavy static fire test to conclude the first weekend of December, following two successful Falcon 9 launches from California and Florida by SpaceX. The ignition of the 27 Merlin engines will take place a week before the planned launch of a national security mission.

The U.S. Space Systems Command announced that the USSF-52 mission aims for liftoff on Sunday, Dec. 10, with the launch window yet to be announced. This launch is historic as it marks the maiden voyage of the Falcon Heavy to transport the U.S. military’s secretive X-37B spaceplane. Additionally, it will be the eighth Falcon Heavy launch and the seventh mission for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

Tune in to Spaceflight Now’s live coverage of the static fire approximately 35 minutes before the test.

The upcoming mission marks the fifth of the year for the Assured Access to Space (AATS) Directorate by the U.S. Space Systems Command:

  • USSF-67 – Jan. 15 (Falcon Heavy, SpaceX)
  • GPS III-6 – Jan. 18 (Falcon 9, SpaceX)
  • NROL-68 – June 21 (Delta 4 Heavy, ULA)
  • NROL-107 – Sept. 10 (Atlas 5, ULA)
  • USSF-52 – NET Dec. 10 (Falcon Heavy, SpaceX)

Brig. Gen. Kristin Panzenhagen, Program Executive Officer for AATS and Commander, Space Launch Delta 45, emphasized the crucial role of national security space launches and the focus on executing a successful mission.

As part of the Phase 1A National Security Space Launch (NSSL) procurement, SpaceX was awarded the launch contract. The mission comes with a price tag of about $155 million and will feature side boosters that are making their fifth flight.

Behold the U.S. Space Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at the Space Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility following its sixth successful mission in 2022. Image: U.S. Space Systems Command

Dr. Walt Lauderdale, Mission Director and lead for Falcon Systems and Operations at SSC, highlighted the benefits of partnerships with other government agencies and commercially derived developments. He emphasized adaptability as the key to coping with the increasing launch tempo, providing capacity to support future national security space requirements.

Following the boosters’ recovery, SpaceX and NASA officials confirmed plans to use them for a sixth and final time to launch NASA’s Europa Clipper mission to the moon of Jupiter in October 2024.

After the Falcon Heavy launch mid-month, the pad at LC-39A will undergo changes to prepare for the launch of a Nova-C lunar lander as part of the Intuitive Machines and NASA mission, IM-1, en route to the Moon’s South Pole.


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