SpaceX makes 75th Falcon rocket landing after launching 60 more Starlink satellites – Spaceflight Now

A Falcon 9 rocket disappears into a blanket of clouds shortly after its launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center early Thursday morning. Credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which launched through a layer of low clouds and a light haze, launched skyward over Florida’s Space Coast Thursday morning and put 60 more Starlink Internet satellites into orbit. The rocket’s first stage landed on SpaceX’s floating landing pad in the Atlantic Ocean to complete its eighth trip to space and back.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket came to life and lifted off from platform 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 3:24:54 a.m. EST (0824:54 GMT). Fifteen seconds later, the liquid-fuel launcher disappeared into a cloud shelf above the coastal spaceport, leaving an orange stream that slowly faded with the roar of the Falcon 9’s powerful main engines.

With an arc to the northeast, the Falcon 9 exceeded the speed of sound and dropped its first stage amp about two and a half minutes after lift-off. A single Merlin engine on the upper stage ignited to continue the flight into space, while the first stage descended to a propellant landing on the “Of course I still love you” drone ship, located about 400 miles (630 kilometers) away from Cape Canaveral.

The successful landing marked the 75th intact recovery of a Falcon rocket since December 2015. Thursday’s mission booster, designated B1049, made its eighth launch and landing after debuting in September 2018, tying another first leg for the largest. number of flights at SpaceX. fleet.

A Falcon 9 thruster on SpaceX’s previous launch on February 15 failed to land on the drone ship after one of its nine main engines shut down prematurely during the ascent.

After reaching a preliminary parking orbit, the upper stage traveled halfway around the world before starting its engine again for a one-second orbit tuning burn over the Indian Ocean. The 60 Starlink satellites were deployed from Falcon 9’s upper stage at 4:29 am EST (0929 GMT) as they flew 172 miles (278 kilometers) above Earth, south of New Zealand.

The launch on the target came after a series of delays kept the mission on the ground since late January. The delays were caused by weather and unspecified technical problems, and two other Falcon 9 missions with Starlink satellites took off from nearby platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station while the flight from platform 39A remained on the ground. .

The change in mission order meant that the batch launched Thursday was on the Falcon 9’s twentieth flight dedicated to carrying Starlink satellites, despite its military-run Eastern Cordillera designation as Starlink V1.0-L17. Pitches No. 18 and 19 ended up flying earlier than No. 17.

The 60 Starlink satellites, each weighing a quarter ton, will deploy their solar panels and fire up the ion krypton thrusters to begin raising their altitude to 341 miles (550 kilometers) in the coming weeks. At that altitude, the satellites will join more than 1,000 active Starlink satellites that fly in orbits inclined 53 degrees from the equator, taking them above almost every populated region in the world.

SpaceX has launched 1,205 Starlink satellites to date with the 60 new relay stations delivered into orbit on Thursday. But 63 of the Starlinks have been intentionally exorbitant or re-entered the atmosphere after failing, and another 20 are either not maneuvering or appear to be in the process of exorbitant, according to a Starlink satellite count by Jonathan McDowell, a respected astronomer and tracker. . of space flight activity.

SpaceX is on track to finalize the deployment of its initial stretch of 1,584 Starlink stations, including spare ones, by the end of this year. SpaceX won’t stop there, with plans to launch additional orbital “projectiles” from Starlink satellites into polar orbit to enable global coverage, with a first-generation fleet totaling some 4,400 spacecraft.

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized SpaceX to eventually operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites.

The company is already providing an interim level of service in parts of the Earth, such as Canada, the northern United States, and the United Kingdom. Beta testing of Starlink services is already underway with users in those regions. SpaceX also accepts pre-orders from Starlink consumers, who can pay $ 99 to reserve their spot in line for Starlink service when it is available in their area. For people in the southern United States and other lower-latitude regions, that should come by the end of 2021, SpaceX says.

Once confirmed, customers will pay $ 499 for a Starlink antenna and modem, plus $ 50 for shipping and handling, SpaceX says. A subscription will cost $ 99 per month.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster sits on the “Of course I still love you” drone ship after launch Thursday. Credit: SpaceX

“Starlink continues to improve as SpaceX deploys additional infrastructure and capacity, averaging two Starlink launches per month, to add significant in-orbit capacity along with the activation of additional gateways to improve performance and expand areas of nationwide service coverage, “SpaceX wrote in the presentation. .

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, tweeted on February 9 that SpaceX’s Starlink subsidiary will go public once it has predictable cash flow.

“Once we can predict cash flow reasonably well, Starlink will do an initial public offering,” Musk tweeted.

Until then, SpaceX will spend fast-paced cash to sustain the high-speed deployment of the Starlink network, from launching satellites at an average rate of every two weeks to manufacturing ground user terminals. SpaceX has said the entire project could cost more than $ 10 billion, but Musk has said the revenue opportunities are even greater, providing resources for SpaceX to advance its bold plans to send people to Mars.

The centerpiece of SpaceX’s plans for Mars is a next-generation fully reusable rocket called the Starship, which the company says will eventually replace the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

The Falcon 9 launch early Thursday morning occurred less than half a day after the atmospheric test flight of a Starship prototype from SpaceX’s development facility in South Texas. The Starship test vehicle made a controlled landing, a first for a Starship descending from a great height and a major step forward for the rocket program.

But the prototype exploded a few minutes later, scattering debris across the Texas Gulf Coast landing site. However, SpaceX declared that the test was a success.

SpaceX’s packed launch schedule continues with the upcoming Falcon 9 mission scheduled to lift off Sunday night from Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with 60 more Starlink satellites. That flight is scheduled for 10:41 p.m. EST Sunday (0341 GMT Monday), followed by more Falcon 9 launches with Starlink satellites in the coming weeks.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ EstebanClark1.

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