The first launch of SpaceX for the year of SpaceX is now the next, after the delays of a big mission on rideshare forced shuffling of the schedule.
Known as the Starlink-16 or Starlink V1 L16, the mission will be the 16th launch of SpaceX’s operational v1.0 communications satellites and the 17th launch of Starlink as a whole. Initially, Ridehare was due to launch SpaceX’s SpaceX program on January 14, that the Transporter-1 mission diverted to no earlier than (NET) on January 21 after a quick series of chaotic events earlier this year.
Scheduled to launch NET 13:23 EST (18:23 UTC) on January 17, Starlink-16 thus became the second SpaceX launch of the year. Progress toward that working date became apparent when the Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) drone quickly unloaded its latest Falcon 9 Catch booster and left Port Canaveral for the second time this year on January 1
Reading between the lines of comments made on January 12 by the 45th Colonel of the Space Wing, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and the Cape Canaveral Air Force (CCAFS) expect to support 53 launches in 2021, some of which 42-44 may attributed to SpaceX.
That figure coincides with CEO Elon Musk’s recent remark that SpaceX is aiming to complete up to 48 launches this year, 4-6 of which are likely to take off from Vandenberg, California. If SpaceX manages more than 40 Florida launches in 2021, it could be said that half – if not more – will be Starlink missions. In other words, the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s StarX-16 is probably the first of approximately two dozen planned over the next 12 months, which could orbit about 1,500 satellites in a year.
Maybe just three days after the planned launch of Starlink-16, one of the five easily accessible boosters on the Falcon 9 is assigned to support the mission. Falcon 9 B1049 is (numerically speaking) the best candidate, last launched at the end of November – 54 days before January 17. The Falcon 9 B1058 is the next “oldest” in the sense that it is the second to be last launched, giving SpaceX approximately 40 days to turn the amplifier on to Starlink-16.
Regardless of the booster chosen by SpaceX, everything is guaranteed to lead to one of the fastest laps on the Falcon 9 ever – an increasingly important milestone as the company works aggressively to reduce the average time between launches. Chances are also good that the Starlink-16 will sport at least one proven flight fairing half, as SpaceX continues to gain experience in recovering and reusing carbon composite nose cones.
Assuming the Starlink-16 has the usual 60 spacecraft, success will mean that SpaceX has officially launched more than 1,000 Starlink satellites, as special launches began a year and a half ago in May 2019. Overall, a successful launch will leave SpaceX with about 940 functional spacecraft in orbit – half or more of which are currently either raising or gradually reducing their orbits.