If you look on Google Maps, at the McGregor, TX test site, you can see the old test stand (Labelled A) where they test each Falcon 9 first stage for a 9 engine fire as an acceptance test before sending on to the launch facility.

GMaps of McGregor site

You can see a nice view of a stage on that vertical test stand in this image:

enter image description here

Labelled B in my first image is the new horizontal test stand. You can see the very large 'trough' or exhaust vent they built. Initial speculation was that they would test Falcon Heavy for all in testing.

But does it make any sense to test each Falcon Heavy, all three cores, at once, before launch? For Development, it makes sense. For every launch, does it? Test the individual core, and then assemble at the pad.

Additional speculation suggests that since this is scaled for a 3+ million lb thrust vehicle, is that it would be good for Raptor engine testing, which floats around the 1 to 1.5 million pound thrust range. (Seems to change regularly. Development program I guess).

Still probably too small for a full up BFR test, which is likely to have an odd number of engines (3, 5, 7, 9, 13) to allow for a center engine for landing. (Where does one test a 13 engine, 1.5 million lb thrust vehicle? (almost 20 million lbs of thrust)).

  • $\begingroup$ Here's the new facility's first use on September 21, 2015: youtube.com/watch?v=qbe1KNUBEEU As you can see, the stand is not horizontal after all. It's used to test-fire the Falcon 9 first stage. $\endgroup$ – Michael V. Pelletier Sep 25 '15 at 14:03

The new test stand is for the full Falcon Heavy. Every Merlin is tested on the stand before being combined into a full F9 stage. It is reasonable to extrapolate this out to the three core FHeavy. The benefits of a 3 core test are unclear. The Falcon Heavy was planned to have cross feed capability, where fuel would flow from the two external boosters to the center core to increase efficiency and allow the center core to be mostly full at stage separation. However, it appears that crossfeed has been put on hold since no customer needs such extremely large payload capacity from SpaceX. This test stand would have allowed for crossfeed testing.

No test stand at McGregor is designed to handle Raptor. Raptor is currently undergoing component testing at a NASA test stand at the Stennis Space Center. There are various reasons for this, one mainly being that the Raptor is a Methalox engine instead of the Kerolox design of the Merlin. The McGregor test stands are plumbed to support kerosene and liquid oxygen. Also while the tripod may be able to support the Raptor, the existing engine test stands are not rated for the estimated thrust of Raptor.

Regulatory Approval to Test FHeavy at McGregor
NasaSpaceFlight Forum Discussion with Pictures of Flame Trench

  • $\begingroup$ This looks great but can you back it up with any links? Welcome to Space Exploration. :) I can't really vote for it because it sounds right but I have no way to confirm it is true. Almost nobody can, right? We're going to need links to give you your due. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Jun 9 '15 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ @briligg Added sources. Could'd post this last link due to 2 URL limit Stennis Stand Opens for Raptor Testing $\endgroup$ – T.J. Tarazevits Jun 9 '15 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, you're from the NSF L2 crew? Awesome. +1 $\endgroup$ – kim holder Jun 9 '15 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ @briligg Actually call /r/SpaceX my home. Been following SpaceX for a couple years and actually got to talk to their engineers at GDC 2015 as well as when they visited my University in March. I'm working out a tour of Hawthorne in the next few weeks as well. $\endgroup$ – T.J. Tarazevits Jun 9 '15 at 0:34

Looks like now it has been answered (though not officially), but here's a video from SpaceX with JCSAT-14 booster test. In this video, you can clearly see the test stand and you also can see it looks like also designed with three core Falcon Heavy.


After the question was asked, it became clear that they stopped using the Milkstool test stand, and instead started testing all Falcon 9 core stages on the new test pad. It is also clearly intended to test the Falcon Heavy. But it is also capable of testing the regular Falcon 9.

By lowering the exhaust, expending some of its energy against the trench they are also likely reducing the noise footprint for local residents.


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