Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Falcon Heavy Gets an Official Launch Date!

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket ignites her 27 Merlin 1D engines during a static-fire test at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on January 24, 2018.
SpaceX

Earlier today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted a tweet (shown below) that revealed when his company will attempt a launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which successfully conducted a static-fire test last Wednesday. According to Musk, the Falcon Heavy will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, February 6. According to other sources, SpaceX is actually aiming for February 6 or 7 to send its newest rocket on its inaugural flight beyond Earth's atmosphere. The launch window would be between 1:30 to 4:30 PM, EST (10:30 AM to 1:30 PM, PST) for both days. I'll be at my laptop watching the SpaceX webcast of the launch on either of those dates! This will be the most powerful rocket in the world, after all—until late 2019 or mid-2020, that is. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

NASA's Day of Remembrance...

The crew of mission STS-51L.

This Sunday, it will be 32 years since the 7 astronauts of space shuttle Challenger lost their lives 73 seconds into flight on a cold January day. On Saturday, it will be 51 years since the 3 astronauts of Apollo 1 perished in a terrible fire during a ground launch rehearsal at Cape Canaveral, Florida. And a week from today, it will be 15 years since the crew of space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere above Texas. May all these folks rest in peace. Today is NASA's official day of honoring these fallen heroes and pioneers.

The crew of mission STS-107.

The crew of Apollo 1.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Falcon Heavy Finally Comes to Life!

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is about to ignite her 27 Merlin 1D engines during a static-fire test at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on January 24, 2018.
SpaceX

Congratulations to SpaceX for successfully conducting a static-fire test on the world's most powerful rocket today! At 9:30 AM, Pacific Standard Time, the 27 Merlin 1D engines came to life on the Falcon Heavy at Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Launch Complex 39A in Florida. While the engine test "only" lasted between 6-7 seconds (online sources stated that the static fire would span 12 seconds), it was long enough for SpaceX to receive enough data to conclude that a second engine test won't be necessary for its newest vehicle. And to make things better, SpaceX received enough data to also conclude that—in the words of Elon Musk himself—Falcon Heavy will finally soar into the sky in about a week or so! Very great news.

A large plume of smoke rises from SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket after she ignites her 27 Merlin 1D engines during a static-fire test at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on January 24, 2018.
SpaceX

So by the first week of February, Musk's Tesla Roadster will hopefully be making its way towards Mars' orbit (not to Mars itself) if all goes well at KSC. Considering how diligent SpaceX was in making sure that Falcon Heavy was in tip-top shape before igniting her three core boosters today, I think it will. Carry on!

Monday, January 22, 2018

SpaceX Update: The U.S. Government Shutdown Is Set To Come To An End...

The Falcon Heavy rocket is in vertical position for testing at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida...on December 28, 2017.
SpaceX

Earlier today, the U.S. Senate reached a compromise that would end the 3-day shutdown and keep the American government open for at least the next 3 weeks. Assuming that the House of Representatives agrees to the deal and both chambers of Congress approve the plan, the bill will then go to the White House for the president to sign. A best case scenario would be that the government reopens as early as tomorrow. This is great news for the United States...and definitely awesome news for SpaceX, as it can soon plan for the Falcon Heavy rocket's eventual static fire once civilian employees for the U.S. Air Force's 45th Space Wing report back to work at Cape Canaveral in Florida sometime this week. Stay tuned.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is loaded with fuel during a Wet Dress Rehearsal at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on January 20, 2018.
Spaceflight Now

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Fueling Test for the Falcon Heavy...

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is loaded with fuel during a Wet Dress Rehearsal at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on January 20, 2018.
Spaceflight Now

Despite the fact the static-fire test for SpaceX's newest rocket has been delayed numerous times over the past ten days, Falcon Heavy has managed to undergo a couple of fueling tests—otherwise known as Wet Dress Rehearsals (WDRs)—at Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Launch Complex (LC)-39A since that time. Another static fire attempt was targeted for tomorrow, but the U.S. government shutdown that began at midnight on January 20 caused it to be cancelled. While SpaceX is allowed to conduct Falcon Heavy propellant loads at LC-39A on its own accord, government employees at Cape Canaveral, KSC and the U.S. Air Force (its 45th Space Wing in general) are required to coordinate with SpaceX in regards to an engine test (since preparing for a static fire is the equivalent of prepping for a launch itself...with Range safety, communications and other aspects coming into play). These employees are furloughed as long as the shutdown is in effect. Hopefully, it won't last too long (even though the last government shutdown, which took place in 2013, ended after 16 days), and SpaceX has gained enough knowledge from the Wet Dress Rehearsals to finally ignite the Falcon Heavy's 27 Merlin engines on its next attempt. That is all.

Friday, January 19, 2018

SLS Update: Exploration Mission-1's Flight Patch Is Revealed...

The flight patch for Exploration Mission-1...which is targeted for launch in late 2019.
NASA

Exploration Mission-1 Identifier (News Release)

The Exploration Mission-1 artwork showcases the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft and lifting off from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The triangular shape represents the three main programs that comprise NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Systems: Orion, SLS, and Exploration Ground Systems, and is a classic shape for NASA mission emblems dating back to the shuttle era.

Several elements within the design carry symbolic meaning for this historic flight. The silver highlight surrounding this patch gives nod to the silver Orion spacecraft, including the European service module that will be voyaging 40,000 miles past the Moon in deep space. The orange rocket and flames represent the firepower of SLS. The setting is historic Launch Pad 39B, represented by the three lightning towers. The red and blue mission trajectories encompassing the white full Moon proudly emphasizes the hard work, tradition, and dedication of this American led-mission while also embracing NASA’s international partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) as both agencies forge a new future in space.

The Exploration Mission-1 emblem was designed in collaboration by the creative team working for the Deep Space Exploration Systems programs, which includes Orion, SLS, and Exploration Ground Systems, located at NASA Headquarters in Washington, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Johnson Space Center in Houston, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Kennedy. Because the maiden mission of SLS and Orion is uncrewed, the program teams had the rare opportunity to conceive the mission identifier. Exploration Mission-2, which will fly with crew, will have an insignia designed by NASA’s Astronaut Office with the help of the crew that will fly aboard the most capable deep space system to take flight.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The flight patch for Exploration Mission-1...which is targeted for launch in late 2019.
NASA

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

NASA Tests New Technology for an Eventual Manned Mission to Mars (and Beyond)...

A fission power system concept for a future manned mission to Mars and beyond.
NASA

Kilopower: What’s Next? (News Release)

When astronauts someday venture to the Moon, Mars and other destinations, one of the first and most important resources they will need is power. A reliable and efficient power system will be essential for day-to-day necessities, such as lighting, water and oxygen, and for mission objectives, like running experiments and producing fuel for the long journey home.

That’s why NASA is conducting experiments on Kilopower, a new power source that could provide safe, efficient and plentiful energy for future robotic and human space exploration missions.

This pioneering space fission power system could provide up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power -- enough to run two average households -- continuously for at least ten years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost.

About the Experiment

The prototype power system was designed and developed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in collaboration with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, while the reactor core was provided by the Y12 National Security Complex. NASA Glenn shipped the prototype power system from Cleveland to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) in late September.

The team at the NNSS recently began tests on the reactor core. According to NASA Glenn’s Marc Gibson, the Kilopower lead engineer, the team will connect the power system to the core and begin end-to-end checkouts this month. Gibson says the experiments should conclude with a full-power test lasting approximately 28 hours in late March.

The Kilopower advantage

Fission power can provide abundant energy anywhere we want humans or robots to go. On Mars, the Sun’s power varies widely throughout the seasons, and periodic dust storms can last for months. On the Moon, the cold lunar night lingers for 14 days.

“We want a power source that can handle extreme environments,” says Lee Mason, NASA’s principal technologist for power and energy storage. “Kilopower opens up the full surface of Mars, including the northern latitudes where water may reside. On the Moon, Kilopower could be deployed to help search for resources in permanently shadowed craters.”

In these challenging environments, power generation from sunlight is difficult and fuel supply is limited. Kilopower is lightweight, reliable and efficient, which makes it just right for the job.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Engineers work on a fission power system prototype.
NASA

Friday, January 12, 2018

Photos of the Day: The VSS Unity Moves One Step Closer to Powered Flight...

VSS Unity rides under the belly of White Knight II during Unity's seventh test flight above California's Mojave Desert, on January 11, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

A little over a year after she conducted her first glide test, the VSS Unity successfully landed at the Mojave Air & Space Port in the California desert after completing her seventh solo flight yesterday. SpaceShipTwo (SS2) moves one step closer to performing a rocket-powered demonstration once more...with Unity having simulated a powered flight by carrying water ballast that mimicked the weight and positioning of RocketMotorTwo if it were attached to the spacecraft. Also, upon release from her mothership White Knight II from an altitude of 50,000 feet during the test, SS2 immediately made a sharp descent, accelerating to Mach 0.9...which is around the maximum airspeed the vehicle could attain without igniting her hybrid rocket engine!

And in another preparation for VSS Unity's eventual flight into suborbital space, the thermal protection system (TPS) was fully applied to the craft's outer surface prior to yesterday's test. The TPS prevents heat loads generated by air friction during rocket-powered ascent and supersonic re-entry from causing damage to the vehicle. The TPS is visible as the protective silvered film that covers the white flaps on Unity's "feather system" in the last two photos posted below.

If all goes well with her test flights in 2018, we may well see VSS Unity ignite her rocket engine thousands of feet in the air before the end of this year. Let's cross our fingers.

VSS Unity detaches from the belly of White Knight II to conduct her seventh glide test above California's Mojave Desert, on January 11, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity soars above California's Mojave Desert during her seventh glide test on January 11, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity rolls down the runway at the Mojave Air & Sport Port after successfully completing her seventh glide test above the California desert...on January 11, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

Monday, January 8, 2018

Falcon Heavy Is Back at the Pad!

The Falcon Heavy rocket is rolled back to Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a static-fire test...on January 8, 2018.
Elliott Skeer

After SpaceX successfully sent the U.S. government's classified Zuma payload to low-Earth orbit yesterday (via a Falcon 9 rocket), the company is now primed on launching its newest vehicle—the Falcon Heavy—to space before the end of this month. These photos are courtesy of Elliott Skeer, who posted them on Twitter while taking a bus tour at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida this morning...courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Within the next day or two, the Falcon Heavy will finally ignite all 27 of its Merlin engines during a static-fire test. Unlike the previous static fires conducted for the Falcon 9 following its return to flight after a September 2016 pad explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station near KSC, the payload fairing will remain attached to the Falcon Heavy during this ground test. Apparently, the prospect of losing Elon Musk's $200,000 Tesla Roadster in another pad explosion isn't as bad as losing a hundred-million-dollar satellite instead! It's all good. I can't wait to see the Falcon Heavy come to life!

Happy Monday.

The Falcon Heavy rocket is rolled back to Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a static-fire test...on January 8, 2018.
Elliott Skeer

The Falcon Heavy rocket is rolled back to Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a static-fire test...on January 8, 2018.
Elliott Skeer

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Rest In Peace, John Young (1930-2018)...

NASA astronaut John Young jumps from the lunar surface while posing with the American flag during the Apollo 16 mission...on April 21, 1972.
NASA / Charlie Duke

NASA Remembers Agency’s Most Experienced Astronaut (Press Release)

The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the passing of John Young, who died Friday night following complications from pneumonia at the age of 87. Young is the only agency astronaut to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs, and the first to fly into space six times:

“Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer. Astronaut John Young's storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.

“John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation's first great achievements in space. But, not content with that, his hands-on contributions continued long after the last of his six spaceflights -- a world record at the time of his retirement from the cockpit.

“Between his service in the U.S. Navy, where he retired at the rank of captain, and his later work as a civilian at NASA, John spent his entire life in service to our country. His career included the test pilot’s dream of two ‘first flights’ in a new spacecraft -- with Gus Grissom on Gemini 3, and as Commander of STS-1, the first space shuttle mission, which some have called ‘the boldest test flight in history.’ He flew as Commander on Gemini 10, the first mission to rendezvous with two separate spacecraft the course of a single flight. He orbited the Moon in Apollo 10, and landed there as Commander of the Apollo 16 mission. On STS-9, his final spaceflight, and in an iconic display of test pilot ‘cool,’ he landed the space shuttle with a fire in the back end.

“I participated in many Space Shuttle Flight Readiness Reviews with John, and will always remember him as the classic ‘hell of an engineer’ from Georgia Tech, who had an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of a technical issue by posing the perfect question -- followed by his iconic phrase, ‘Just asking...’

“John Young was at the forefront of human space exploration with his poise, talent, and tenacity. He was in every way the 'astronaut’s astronaut.' We will miss him.”


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NASA astronaut John Young works aboard the flight deck of space shuttle Columbia...during mission STS-1 in April of 1981.
NASA / Robert L. Crippen

Friday, January 5, 2018

EM-1 Update: The Space Launch System and Orion Are Set to Reach Major Milestones This Year...

An artist's concept of NASA's Space Launch System rocket soaring in the sky.
NASA

NASA Deep Space Exploration Systems Look Ahead to Action-Packed 2018 (News Release)

Engineers preparing NASA’s deep space exploration systems to support missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond are gearing up for a busy 2018. The agency aims to complete the manufacturing of all the major hardware by the end of the year for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), which will pave the road for future missions with astronauts. Planes, trains, trucks and ships will move across America and over oceans to deliver hardware for assembly and testing of components for the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket while teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida prepare the Ground Systems infrastructure. Testing will take place from the high seas to the high skies and in between throughout the year and across the country, not only in support of EM-1, but also for all subsequent missions.

Orion

Early in the year, engineers at Kennedy will bolt Orion’s heat shield to the crew module. The heat shield will endure temperatures as high as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, half as hot as the surface of the Sun, when Orion returns from its missions near the Moon. Mating the heat shield is a crucial step before the service module arrives from Europe in the middle of the year. Once the powerhouse for the spacecraft arrives, technicians will outfit it for mating with the crew module and stack the elements together, joining propulsion lines, avionics and other connections. After the major elements are stacked together, technicians will verify that the integrated crew and service module work as expected and hardware is responding as intended before shipping the stack to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio for testing in 2019.

NASA engineers and the U.S. Navy will head out to sea off the coast of California in January to evaluate how they plan to recover Orion after the EM-1 test flight. In Yuma, Arizona, engineers will perform three remaining tests to qualify Orion’s parachutes for missions with crew, and at White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico, workers will continue tests to verify the propulsion system for Orion’s European Service Module works as planned. At the Denver facility of Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin, a structural test article will undergo pressure, acoustic, pyrotechnic and other testing to help ensure Orion can stand up to vibrations, loads, sounds and blasts associated with separation events in flight.

Work is already well underway and will continue for the Orion spacecraft that will carry astronauts on Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2). Workers are welding the primary elements of Orion’s structure at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and will ship the completed vessel to Kennedy by the end of 2018. At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, engineers will review the life support and crew survival systems, and astronauts and test subjects will continue evaluations of the crew interface. NASA engineers are preparing a test version of the spacecraft and separation ring for a mid-air test of Orion’s launch abort system. A precursor to the EM-2 crewed flight of Orion, the test, called Ascent Abort 2, will validate the operations of the launch abort system in a dynamic flight environment.

Space Launch System

SLS engineers will move at full throttle to complete building rocket hardware that will roar off the launch pad. Michoud will see a surge of activity, as five major structural pieces of SLS come together to form the 212-foot-tall core stage. The four RS-25 engines that will produce two million pounds of thrust upon launch will be attached to the stage. Engineers will ship the integrated hardware on the Pegasus barge to NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, for the final test in 2019 before launch, called the “green run” test, when all four engines roar to life and drain the core stage tanks of more than 700,000 gallons of propellant in a mere eight minutes. The brains of the rocket, the core stage avionics and flight computers, will complete qualification and functional testing and be readied for the green run.

Solid rocket booster segments made by Orbital ATK in Utah will ride the rails to Kennedy and join booster parts, such as the aft and forward skirts. Two launch adapters made at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will also arrive at Kennedy. Pegasus will take the 30-foot-tall launch vehicle stage adapter, and NASA’s Guppy cargo airplane will carry the Orion stage adapter. The Orion stage adapter not only connects the Orion vehicle to the SLS, but will also be loaded with 13 small satellites.

SLS testing will continue as the core stage structural test articles for the liquid hydrogen tank, intertank, and liquid oxygen tank arrive at Marshall and are loaded into towering test stands to be pushed, pulled and twisted to simulate flight. Meanwhile, engineers are working on the design of the Exploration Upper Stage and preparing drawings and engineering products for a Critical Design Review in late 2018. Plans call for using the Exploration Upper Stage on EM-2 as part of the first crewed flight test. SLS teams will also continue to build core stage components and other rocket parts for EM-2 and test engines in support of future missions with crew.

Ground Systems

Workers at Kennedy will continue to ready NASA’s modernized spaceport in Florida for blast off of the rocket and spacecraft. In the spring, the mobile launcher will be rolled out to Launch Pad 39B ahead of a fit check that will verify all physical connections between the launcher and pad systems fit before rolling it into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for testing. This includes the major interfaces such as mount mechanisms and ignition overpressure and sound suppression water pipes, as well as smaller interfaces like gaseous nitrogen and helium supply lines and access platforms. After testing in the VAB is complete, the mobile launcher will roll back to the pad for several months of full system testing. Over the summer, critical software updates used for command and control to support EM-1 will be completed and teams will prepare for crewed missions.

Ground systems engineers will begin launch pad preparations for launch processing in support of EM-2 by fabricating umbilicals that will service the Exploration Upper Stage engines while the rocket is on the pad. Workers will also start construction for a massive holding tank for liquid hydrogen that will be pumped into the core stage of SLS.

All the work by NASA and its contractors helps set the stage for an even busier 2019, when Orion and SLS will be integrated, tested, and rolled out to the launch pad — one of the final steps before EM-1. That initial test flight of the SLS -- launched from NASA’s modernized spaceport in Florida -- will send Orion beyond where any spacecraft built for humans has ventured. All of this foundational work in 2018 and 2019 will enable NASA’s efforts to build a flexible, reusable and sustainable infrastructure that will last multiple decades and support missions into deep space of increasing complexity.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The CST-100 Moves One Step Closer To Its First Orbital Flight This Year!

An artist's concept of an Atlas V rocket launching Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule into space.

United Launch Alliance Completes Key Milestone for Launch of Boeing’s Starliner and Return of U.S.-based Human Spaceflight (Press Release)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Jan. 4, 2018 – United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully completed an Atlas V Launch Segment Design Certification Review (DCR) recently in preparation for the launch of astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil in The Boeing Company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. ULA’s Atlas V DCR supported the Boeing International Space Station (ISS) DCR that was held with NASA at Kennedy Space Center in early December.

“Design Certification Review is a significant milestone that completes the design phase of the program, paving the way to operations,” said Barb Egan, ULA Commercial Crew program manager. “Hardware and software final qualification tests are underway, as well as a major integrated test series, including structural loads. Future tests will involve launch vehicle hardware, such as jettison tests, acoustic tests, and, finally, a pad abort test in White Sands, New Mexico.”

Launch vehicle production is currently on track for an uncrewed August 2018 Orbital Flight Test (OFT). The OFT booster for the uncrewed flight is in final assembly at the factory in Decatur, Ala., and the OFT Centaur upper stage has completed pressure testing. Other hardware such as the launch vehicle adapter and aeroskirt production are on schedule to support test articles and flight.

“ULA is progressing into the operational phase to launch the OFT and Crew Flight Test in 2018, and we are pleased with the progress we’re making toward a successful launch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on the Atlas V,” said Gary Wentz, ULA Human and Commercial Systems vice president. “We cannot overstate the importance of all the steps that go into this process as there is more than just a mission or hardware at stake, but the lives of our brave astronauts.”

The Boeing Company selected ULA’s Atlas V rocket for human-rated spaceflight to the ISS. ULA’s Atlas V has launched more than 70 times with a 100 percent mission success rate.

With more than a century of combined heritage, ULA is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 120 satellites to orbit that aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, unlock the mysteries of our solar system, provide critical capabilities for troops in the field and enable personal device-based GPS navigation.

Source: United Launch Alliance

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The Starliner Pad Abort Test and Orbital Flight Test vehicles undergo construction at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Boeing

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year, Everyone!

The Falcon Heavy rocket is in vertical position for testing at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida...on December 28, 2017.
SpaceX

Just thought I'd start this year off by posting these amazing hi-res photos that were recently released by SpaceX of its first Falcon Heavy rocket. The Falcon Heavy's static-fire test is currently scheduled for January 6—while its maiden flight is being targeted for no earlier than January 15. Exciting times lie ahead! Especially considering that NASA's Space Launch System should truly be taking form at the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana over the course of this year, and test flights for SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle and Boeing's CST-100 capsule should take place sometime in the spring and summer, respectively...

Godspeed and have a safe and memorable 2018.

The Falcon Heavy rocket is in vertical position for testing at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida...on December 28, 2017.
SpaceX

The Falcon Heavy rocket is in vertical position for testing at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida...on December 28, 2017.
SpaceX

The Falcon Heavy rocket is in vertical position for testing at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida...on December 28, 2017.
SpaceX