CAPA CANAVERAL, Fla. – A SpaceX The Falcon 9 rocket launched a new batch of 60 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit late Monday (February 15), but failed to hold the landing on a floating platform at sea.
Two-step Falcon 9 booster, topped with 60 broadband spacecraft, lifted from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 22:59 EST (0359 GMT February 16). About nine minutes later, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth to attempt its sixth landing on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of course I still love you” in the Atlantic, “but missed its target.
“It looks like we did not land our booster on Of course I still love you tonight,” SpaceX production engineer Jessica Anderson said during the commentary on the live launch. “It is unfortunate that we did not restore this booster, but our second stage is still on a nominal trajectory.”
SpaceX prefers to recover its Falcon 9 rocket phases for recycling, but the company has also repeatedly said that it is always the primary mission to deliver an aircraft’s payload to orbit.
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One of SpaceX’s frequent flyers orbits this latest Starlink mission. Booster, called B1059, previously carried two different SpaceX Dragon Cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station – CRS-19 in December 2019 and CRS-20 in March 2020 – a Starlink mission in June last year, an Earth observation satellite for Argentina (SAOCOM-1B in August 2020) and a spy satellite to the US government as part of NROL-108 mission in December.
Tonight’s launch was the first of two planned Starlink liftoffs within a week; Another 60 satellites are scheduled to take off early Wednesday (February 17) on another Falcon 9. The rapid order is due to the fact that SpaceX recently had to mingle around its planned Starlink missions, as both weather and hardware related issues presented a bit of a challenge.
This mission, called Starlink 19, progressed SpaceX’s 18th Starlink mission jumped out on February 4th. Both planes jumped through Starlink 17, which was originally scheduled to take off on February 1st. Scheduled to fly on one of SpaceX’s two record-setting frequent flyers, the B1049, the mission was delayed several times and is now expected to explode just after midnight on February 17th.
During the initial mission planning, SpaceX aimed to launch two Starlink missions every few hours – a first for the space coast since 1966, when a Gemini rocket was followed by an Atlas Agena just 99 minutes later. In the end, the dual missions did not happen, but in an unprecedented move for the era of commercial spaceflight, the Eastern Range (the agency that oversees launches along the East Coast). approved two missions to start fast in succession.
This is an achievement we may see happening at a later date, especially as more launch providers become active and more and more launches explode from Florida. Last year, there were a record-breaking 31 launches for the year, and 2021 could be even busier as the 45th space wing prepares for at least 40 missions.
Double the launch
Originally scheduled for launch Sunday night, SpaceX had to stand down due to bad weather at the launch site. Thunderstorms rolled over Florida last weekend, preventing the flight from taking off.
Conditions improved on Monday and the Falcon 9 was able to fly, marking this year’s fifth launch for SpaceX and allowing the company to look forward to its next mission. Another stack of Starlink satellites is ready to explode from SpaceX’s second Florida launch site at Pad 39A in NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here.
The mission was also the 108th overall flight for SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9. It would have marked the 75th rocket landing for the company if Falcon 9 had maintained its touchdown.
To recover its recurring boosters, SpaceX uses two massive floating landing platforms – “Of course I still love you” and “Just read the instructions” – in addition to the landing plates, which allow the company to launch (and land) more rockets. Typically, drone ships see most of the action, as it takes more fuel reserves to land back ashore than it lands at sea.
The version of the Falcon 9 we see today is a souped-up version of its predecessors that is capable of flying multiple times with only minor renovations in between. This is due to a number of upgrades that Falcon 9 received in 2018 – including a more robust thermal protection system, titanium lattice fins and a more durable space – which facilitates recycling.
As such, this fleet of more capable rockets has enabled SpaceX to fly multiple missions. The company launched a record 26 times in 2020 with 22 of those flights on veteran rockets.
The company aims to surpass this record in 2021, as it hopes to launch at least 40 rockets between its launch facilities in California and Florida.
Building a mega constellation
With tonight’s launch success, SpaceX now has more than 1,000 Starlink satellites in orbit. And there will be many more launches; SpaceX’s first Starlink constellation will consist of 1,440 satellites, and the company has sought approval for tens of thousands more.
The company launched its massive constellation that surpasses any other constellation currently in orbit, with an overall goal of connecting the globe.
To that end, SpaceX designed a fleet of flat-panel broadband satellites that will fly across Earth and provide users across the globe with Internet coverage.
Tonight’s flight comes just days after SpaceX began offering pre-bookings to the public. Last week, the company opened its website to potential customers on a first-come, first-served basis, while conducting an extensive international and domestic beta testing phase.
According to the website, potential users can order equipment and sign up for the service, which can take six months or more to become available.
SpaceX began its “better than nothing” beta testing phase in 2020, when the company let its employees put the budding satellite service through.
Founder and CEO Elon Musk has said there should be between 500-800 Starlink satellites in orbit before coverage could begin to roll out. Once this milestone was reached, the company began testing its new service.
Early reports from employees showed that the service worked and even enabled streaming of several high definition programs at the same time. Shortly afterwards, SpaceX urged users to start testing its service as they continued to launch more and more satellites.
The company was allowed to start rolling out its service to users in the UK earlier this year and even captured its first Canadian customer in December last year.
Pikangikum First Nation was able to use the service to connect its members and provide access to educational programs as well as telemedicine and more.
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GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms Chief, SpaceX’s two net-equipped boats are also stationed out in the Atlantic. The dynamic duo will recover the rocket’s nose cone (otherwise known as a payload feeding) after the two pieces have fallen back to Earth.
Equipped with navigation software and special parachutes, the two halves of the shield will have to lead back to Earth and are likely to be pushed out of the water after the splashdown.
Occasionally, SpaceX catches the falling mantles in the air, but that depends on wind and weather. Recovery efforts are typically announced by SpaceX 45 minutes after liftoff.
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