SpaceX’s oldest booster, Falcon 9, in SpaceX’s operational rocket fleet, sent another 60 Starlink Internet satellites into space on Tuesday with a launch from historic site 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
With the launch of 60 satellites on Tuesday, SpaceX sent 1,565 Starlink spacecraft into orbit to transmit broadband signals around the world, nearly nine times as many satellites in another company’s constellation.
The 70-meter-tall Falcon 9 rocket climbed away from the Florida spaceport and buzzed through the sunny sky in the middle of the afternoon, flying on a runway northeast of the Kennedy Space Center to launch another 60 Starlink broadband stations.
The mission began at 3:01 p.m. EDT (1901 GMT) on Tuesday when nine Kerosene-powered Merlin 1D gasoline engines fired to displace the 1.2 million-pound Falcon 9 launcher.
Falcon 9 exceeded the speed of sound for about a minute, then turned off its engines from the first stage and started the amplifier about two and a half minutes after takeoff.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket takes off, carrying the next 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. https://t.co/NPEygGCRNT pic.twitter.com/1HQQXcYHia
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) May 4, 2021
The 15-story booster, designated the B1049 in the SpaceX fleet, continued to move toward the high point of its suborbital trajectory and unfolded grille aerodynamics to help stabilize the rocket to descend back into the atmosphere.
Three of Merlin’s booster engines restarted for combustion, and the rocket’s central engine ignited to burn on landing just before the first stage of the extended legs and boarded the deck of the SpaceX drone. “Of course I still love you.” , in the Atlantic Ocean.
The landing about eight and a half minutes after takeoff is finally the ninth space trip and back for this booster, which debuted in September 2018. This reusable booster is the oldest operational first stage in SpaceX’s inventory and its nine launches and landings connect more one booster for the largest number of flights in the Falcon 9 fleet.
SpaceX plans to return the drone and the Falcon 9 accelerator to Port Canaveral, Florida, from the recovery zone several hundred miles east of Charleston, South Carolina. Cape Canaveral ground crews are expected to inspect and upgrade the missile for its 10th flight.
The Falcon 9’s second-stage engine completed two burns to put 60 Starlink satellites in the correct deployment orbit. About 64 minutes after takeoff, a forward-facing camera on the upper stage shows the 60 flat-panel satellites flying free of the rocket at an altitude of 292 kilometers south of New Zealand.
The 573-pound (260-kilogram) satellites will deploy their energy-generating solar panels and turn on their krypton-powered plasma engines to increase their altitude to 550 kilometers to join the rest of Starlink’s fleet.
Tuesday’s launch marked the 100th consecutive successful Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy mission in flight, a series that lasted until June 2015. It was the 91st successful mission for SpaceX since the Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a pre-flight test in Cape Canaveral in September 2016, destroying an Israeli-owned launch vehicle and communications satellite, and damaging the SpaceX launch pad.
Starlink satellites are built on the SpaceX production line in Redmond, Washington.
Launched today, 1565 Starlink satellites include prototypes and failed spacecraft that fell out of orbit and burned into the atmosphere. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and space flight monitoring expert, says more than 1,400 Starlink satellites are currently in orbit, not counting the 60 spacecraft launched Wednesday night.
The Federal Communications Commission has authorized SpaceX to deploy about 12,000 Starlink satellites operating at Ku-band, Ka-band and V-frequencies and at a number of altitudes and inclinations in low Earth orbit. The satellites are already broadcasting low-latency broadband signals to users who have signed up for Starlink beta testing.
All 60 Starlink Internet satellites have been deployed by the rocket at an altitude of 292 km south of New Zealand.
With this flight, SpaceX fired 100 straight Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets without a flight failure. Https://t.co/NPEygGCRNT pic.twitter.com/gfD6GEtwQ6
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) May 4, 2021
So far, almost all Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX have been operating in 341-mile orbits at an angle of 53 degrees to the equator.
“We have a global reach, but we don’t have full global connectivity,” Gwyn Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, told an industry conference last month. “We hope to have continuous coverage around the world after about 28 launches. And then the plan after that is to keep adding satellites to provide extra capacity. “
Tuesday’s launch was Falcon 9’s 25th flight to launch Starlink operational satellites, known as Version 1.0, into orbit and Falcon 9’s 28th mission with Starlink payloads on board.
Last April, SpaceX requested FCC approval to operate its Starlink satellites at lower altitudes than originally planned, all between 540 kilometers and 570 kilometers of 355 miles. The FCC approved the request last month.
With the approval of the commission, SpaceX will now operate its first 4,408 satellites at altitudes between 335 miles and 354 miles, instead of flying more than 2,800 of the spacecraft in orbits up to 800 miles or 1,300 kilometers above Earth.
FCC approval paves the way for SpaceX to launch more Starlink satellites into polar orbit later this year. Polar orbital satellites will give the Starlink network full global coverage.
Starlink’s updated network architecture has 1,584 satellites at an altitude of 550 kilometers and a slope of 53 degrees, 1,584 satellites at 540 kilometers at 335 miles and a slope of 53.2 degrees, 720 satellites at 570 kilometers and a slope of 70 degrees and 520 satellites at 348 miles (560 kilometers). ) and a slope of 97.6 degrees.
SpaceX still has regulatory permission to launch more than 7,000 additional Starlink satellites outside the 4,408 spacecraft covered by the recent FCC approval.
The next launch of the Falcon 9 is scheduled for Sunday at 2:42 a.m. EDT (0642 GMT) from Site 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Station, carrying the next batch of Starlink Internet satellites.
Another Starlink mission is planned for mid-May with the launch of the Falcon 9 from 39A.
Email the author.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.