SpaceX conducts Falcon Heavy static fire test

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SAN MATEO, Calif. — SpaceX carried out a static fire test of the its first Falcon Heavy launch vehicle Jan. 24, which the company’s founder said clears the way for its upcoming launch.

The rocket fired the engines in its three core boosters at 12:30 p.m. Eastern on the pad at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A). Observers of the test reported it lasting about 10 seconds. The company didn’t immediately release details about the test, including the precise length of the static fire and the performance of the 27 Merlin engines in the three boosters.

“Falcon Heavy hold-down firing this morning was good. Generated quite a thunderhead of steam,” tweeted SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk about an hour after the test. “Launching in a week or so.”

SpaceX has not yet announced a target launch date for the inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy, the largest U.S. rocket since the Saturn 5. SpaceX currently has a Falcon 9 launch from nearby Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station scheduled for Jan. 30, suggesting a launch attempt will take place after that.

SpaceX has been testing the Falcon Heavy at LC-39A for the last two weeks, conducting a number of fueling tests known as wet dress rehearsals and troubleshooting issues as they developed. The company has been tight-lipped about when it would attempt a static fire, with the primary public information in the form of testing windows announced for range operations.

The long-delayed inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy — the company said in April 2011 that the vehicle would be ready for a first launch in 2013 — is a demonstration mission without a paying customer. In December, Musk announced the rocket would carry his own Tesla Roadster sports car on a trajectory that would take it past the planet Mars. SpaceX later released photos of the car being encapsulated in the rocket’s payload fairing.

If that demonstration mission is a success, SpaceX has at least two more Falcon Heavy launches planned for 2018, of the Arabsat 6A communications satellite and the Space Test Program 2 mission for the U.S. Air Force, although the timing of those missions is uncertain. SpaceX also announced plans to fly a Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying two people, on a circumlunar mission in late 2018 using a Falcon Heavy, but the company has provided no updates on the status of that effort since announcing it in February 2017.

Musk has, for month, attempted to lower expectations about the launch, emphasizing that it was a test. “Excitement on launch day guaranteed, one way or another,” he wrote in an Instagram post early this month.