CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – SpaceX has just launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets for a record seventh time. The booster carried a full set of 60 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit and then landed at sea.
The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket fired from the Space Launch Complex 40 here today (November 24) in the Air Force on Cape Canaveral at 9:13 p.m. EDT (0213 GMT on November 25), marking the company’s 23rd launch of the year and its 100th flight in general for the Falcon 9 workhorse.
Approximately 9 minutes later, the first stage of the booster returned to Earth, landing on one of the SpaceX drones in the Atlantic Ocean with a smooth touch. The massive ship, called “Of course I still love you,”
“This Falcon landed for the seventh time,” said SpaceX engineer Kate Tees during the live broadcast.
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This was the third attempt to eliminate this mission. SpaceX originally planned to do a double-headed over the weekend as it successfully moved the Sentinel-6 satellite into orbit for NASA and several partners, but then had to withdraw from Starlink and try to do more tests on the rocket. Another attempt was scheduled for Monday (November 23rd), but bad weather in the recovery area forced SpaceX to postpone the flight for another 24 hours.
There was rain over the space coast, which cleared just before takeoff tonight. The rocket thundered from above as it climbed through the clouds. As the first stage of the rocket detached to return to Earth, the clouds cleared and viewers could see the single engine of the second stage light up.
The first-stage booster included in today’s flight, known as the B1049, now has seven launches and landings under its belt – the first Falcon 9 with so much flight experience. This frequent flight has already sent five different batches of Starlink into space, as well as a set of Iridium NEXT satellites and the Telstar 18V mission. The landing today was the 67th recovery of the first stage of the Falcon, after SpaceX restored its first booster in 2015.
Today’s flight marked the 23rd launch of SpaceX in 2020, the company’s busiest year to date. (The previous record was set in 2018, when the company launched 21 times.) The flight also marks the 100th launch of the Falcon 9 rocket.
Last month, the California-based aerospace company reached its 100th anniversary of 100 flights on its Falcon rocket series, which also included the Falcon 1 and Falcon Heavy. The company released a video highlighting this achievement. But now the Falcon 9 has also reached 100 on its own.
SpaceX launched the Starlink mission tonight just hours after launching its prototype SN8 Starship rocket in Texas. The SN8’s engines caught fire a few seconds before the scheduled test flight, which could take place next week.
2020 is already a banner year for SpaceX. The record 23 launches include two different astronaut missions to the International Space Station in the last six months, the first private flight of its kind to the orbital laboratory. This achievement is facilitated by the fleet of field-proven SpaceX boosters. SpaceX currently has 10 veteran boosters in its missile reserves and three brand new Heavy boosters that will be used for an upcoming military mission. SpaceX relies on its frequent flyers, now launching more updated rockets than new ones.
To begin its era of rapid reuse, SpaceX debuted a full version of its workhorse, the Falcon 9 Block 5, the first phase in 2018. This improved iteration received many new features, including a more robust thermal protection system, titanium grille ribs , a more durable interstage stage (the hardware that connects the two stages of the rocket) and more powerful engines.
Now with more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust, the upgraded Falcon 9 has performed reliably (although the rocket has survived two launches in recent months) since the launch of its first payload in 2018, a communications satellite for Bangladesh. With the launch in 2018, the company is saying goodbye to the moderately reusable Falcons of the past, introducing a new era in which the same rocket has the ability to fly many times.
Since then, SpaceX has been working to improve its reusable rocket technology. His experience with proven in-flight missiles even won the company the right to launch US military and national payloads, as well as astronauts on previously flying missiles.
And now the company has fired and landed the same rocket a record seven times.
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SpaceX is focused on Mars and hopes to help humanity become a multiplanetary species. To help raise money to achieve this bold goal, the company has developed a plan to cover the Earth with Internet coverage broadcast by a network of broadband satellites. This stellar star unit will consist of thousands of satellites flying close to the planet in low Earth orbit.
With the launch tonight, the company sent into space more than 900 of the quarter-tone flat-panel satellites – a milestone that will help SpaceX deploy its Starlink Internet service. There are still regulatory hurdles to overcome and launch more satellites before the service can be offered globally, but initial tests are promising, company officials said.
SpaceX’s mega-constellation Starlink has one main goal: to provide more affordable high-speed Internet access around the world, especially for those in rural and remote areas. To this end, the company initially planned a fleet of 1,440 satellites, but has since received approval for thousands more.
The US Federal Communications Commission has authorized SpaceX to launch up to 12,000 flat-panel broadband satellites, but SpaceX may not stop there. The company said it could seek approval to launch another 30,000 Starlink satellites to transmit low-latency high-speed Internet signals.
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The thriving Internet service has already gone through a private beta test program, where the company’s employees run the broadband service through its steps. According to reports from members of the SpaceX team, current data shows that the service can support multiple high-resolution streams simultaneously.
SpaceX recently launched a public beta test program, inviting users to purchase ground equipment and then test the service. The test program, called “Better Than Nothing Beta,” requires users to purchase Starlink ground equipment for $ 499 and then pay a $ 99 monthly fee for an active service.
The initial public beta was limited, but more invitations are expected to be released in January before the official service is released. Project engineers conducted a Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) over the weekend to answer questions about the service.
“Starlink is an extremely flexible system and will improve over time as we make software smarter. Latency, bandwidth and reliability can be significantly improved,” wrote engineers under the Reddit username “DishyMcFlatface,” SpaceX’s nickname for the satellite. Starlink antenna.
The Starlink team also revealed that SpaceX “is constantly increasing access to the web over time to attract as many people as possible,” the AMA team wrote. “Remarkably, we plan to move from a limited beta to a wider beta at the end of January, which should allow more users to participate.”
“Expect data speeds to range from 50Mbps [megabits per second] up to 150Mbps and latency of 20ms [milliseconds] up to 40ms over the next few months as we improve the Starlink system. There will also be short periods of no connectivity at all, “said an invitation posted on Reddit by one user in Washington and another in Wisconsin.
At AMA, members of the Starlink team addressed questions about latency and dropouts experienced by users.
“You have to think of the communication between the Starlink plate and the space satellite as a ‘faint ray’ between Dishy and the satellite,” they wrote. “So, because the satellite passes quickly from above, if there is a branch or pole between the plate and the satellite, you usually lose connection (note – obstacles usually cause interruptions and not reduced speeds!).
The Starlink team also explained how the dish finds satellites. “[The dish] is able to electronically scan the sky in a matter of milliseconds and lock itself in the satellite above its head, even though it moves over 17,500 miles per hour above its head, “replied DishyMcFlatface.” When it finds a satellite, Starlink refines its position and requests to join the Internet. The dish can then draw a schedule of which satellites to talk to next, and thus can point directly to the satellites when the time comes. “
The Starlink team also said they are open to user ideas on how to improve plug-and-play practices. “We spent a lot of effort and went through tons and tons of creative ideas on how to make this experience as simple as possible – including mounting solutions, automated plate guidance and general unpacking,” the project engineers wrote.
As part of its recovery efforts, SpaceX has deployed one of its twin-fair boats, the GO Ms. Chief. (The fairings surround the satellites, protecting them during launch. The SpaceX fairings return to Earth in two parts.)
The other boat, GO Ms. Tree, is still removed after being damaged in a previous mission. The ship was spotted leaving Port Canaveral this week and potentially undergoing several naval tests before re-entering service.
To assist GO Ms. Chief, one of SpaceX’s Dragon recovery ships, the GO Searcher, has been turned into a stream hunter to help the recovery effort in the meantime.
Recovery efforts with GO Ms. Chief should happen about 45 minutes after the start.
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