SpaceX fires rocket engines at historic Kennedy Space Center launch pad

Company targets Feb. 18 launch from Cape Canaveral

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Smoke and fire poured from a Kennedy Space Center launch pad on Sunday, the first time since NASA's final shuttle mission blasted off more than five years ago.

It only lasted for a few seconds, as planned, but the long-awaited test-firing of a Falcon 9 rocket's nine main engines around 4:30 p.m. signaled that historic launch pad 39A may soon begin a new chapter launching commercial rockets, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

And SpaceX may soon be ready to resume launches from Florida, halted after its rocket explosion last September.

SpaceX will review data from the "static fire" test, but may be ready to launch supplies to the International Space Station for NASA as soon as Saturday, Feb. 18, around 10 a.m.

Sunday's engine firing, which SpaceX confirmed on Twitter, completed several days of work to shake out new systems installed at pad 39A for Falcon launches.

The rocket on Friday was rolled up to the pad and lifted vertical. Preparations were in place to complete the test that day or on Saturday, but it took more time.

The countdown rehearsal, which SpaceX performs before every mission, involves fueling the rocket with rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen and then briefly lighting its Merlin 1D engines.

SpaceX's Florida missions so far have launched just down the coast at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40. But that pad was severely damaged when a Falcon 9 exploded on Sept. 1 while it was being fueled for a test just like the one completed Sunday.

An investigation found that solid oxygen that formed during fueling likely caused a breach in a helium pressure tank in the rocket's upper stage.

SpaceX modified its fueling procedures and last month returned to flight from California with a successful launch of commercial satellites for Iridium Communications.

Now the company hopes to begin launching frequently from Florida, perhaps as often as every two or three weeks, to work through its backlog of missions.

The Federal Aviation Administration must issue SpaceX a license to start launching from pad 39A at KSC. The company then will have two Space Coast pads available as soon as it completes repairs to Launch Complex 40, likely later this year.

SpaceX hopes to debut its heavy-lift Falcon Heavy rocket with a launch from KSC this year. Next year, from the same pad that launched Apollo astronauts to the moon and space shuttle crews, SpaceX plans to start launching astronauts to the International Space Station.

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