SpaceX performed a static fire of its long-awaited Falcon Heavy rocket Wednesday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and chief executive Elon Musk expects the rocket to launch in about a week. Around 11:30 p.m. Central time, large plumes of steam began to billow out from what appeared to be the base of the 230-foot rocket, followed by a low rumbling noise, as seen and heard on a Periscope live stream of the test site by Chris Gebhardt, assistant managing editor at news site NASAspaceflight.com.
“Falcon Heavy hold-down firing this morning was good,” Musk said on Twitter. The hold-down test fire, which is intended to evaluate the Falcon Heavy’s 27 engines, was not livestreamed by either SpaceX or NASA. They do not typically broadcast such tests.
On the Periscope live stream Wednesday, recorded from a spot about 4 miles away from the launch pad, onlookers could be heard cheering after the rumbling subsided. Wednesday’s firing appeared to last for about 10 seconds. The test took place on the historic pad once used by NASA’s Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles. The Falcon Heavy test fire was expected to take place earlier this month but was delayed, in part by the recent federal government shutdown.
The 45th Space Wing, a U.S. Air Force unit stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, said in a statement earlier this week that “due to the shutdown removing key members of the civilian workforce,” it would not be able to support commercial static fires at Kennedy Space Center. The 45th Space Wing said it also would be unable to support launch operations without its civilian workforce.
The Falcon Heavy rocket is expected to help SpaceX – which is based in Hawthorne, Calif., and whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp. – win more national security missions, as well as commercial launches that require more power than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket can produce. Falcon Heavy is composed of three engine cores. After launch, SpaceX will attempt to land all three of the boosters – two on land and one on a floating drone ship.
The Heavy’s cargo for the test flight will be a Tesla Roadster belonging to Musk, who also heads the electric car company. Musk has warned that the rocket could explode. If successful, his red sports car will end up in a long oval loop around the sun, traveling as far out as the orbit of Mars.