SpaceX is planning to perform a static test fire of its massive Falcon Heavy rocket later this week, the company revealed today in a statement from company President and COO Gwynne Shotwell. Now that the rocket is vertical on launchpad LC-39A, a static test fire to ensure the rocket’s 27 Merlin engines are in good working order and ready for the full, inaugural test launch targeting low Earth orbit shortly thereafter.
The fact that SpaceX is ready to test fire its heavy-duty rocket means it’s likely getting very close to launch – it could be ready to go within the next couple of weeks. That’s in keeping with what SpaceX has been saying since late last year, when it pushed the initial test launch from the end of 2017 to sometime in the very beginning of 2018.
SpaceX first showed Falcon Heavy vertical at Cape Canaveral in Florida on January 3, just days into the new year. It’s carrying a special payload, too – an original Tesla Roadster in cherry red, which SpaceX is hoping to put into an extended orbit of Mars if everything goes exactly to plan with the initial Falcon Heavy launch.
Everything going to plan isn’t necessarily a lock, of course. Tesla hasn’t ever attempted to launch a rocket with this much thrust before, and real-world experience never fails to differ from expectations, simulations and projections. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has suggested in the past that it’s possible the rocket will explode long before it reaches orbit, but that such a result would represent a success of sorts since it’ll provide crucial data to inform future attempts.