SpaceX launches third Starlink mission in five days – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX launches third Starlink mission in five days – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket transits the face of the sun moments after liftoff Wednesday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

SpaceX’s third Starlink satellite delivery mission in five days departed Florida’s space coast just after sunrise Wednesday, adding 53 more mass-produced communications spacecraft to the company’s high-speed internet network.

A Falcon 9 rocket exited its firing range at Kennedy Space Center at 6:59:40 a.m. EDT (10:59:40 a.m. GMT) to launch SpaceX’s 21st mission of the year and 14th dedicated launch of 2022. deployment of the Starlink network.

The launch was from Pad 39A at Kennedy, the historic site once used for NASA’s Apollo Moon program liftoffs, and now leased by SpaceX for crew and satellite deployment missions.

Nine Merlin 1D engines ignited to send the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket skyward, streaking across golden skies half an hour after sunrise over the Space Coast. Heading northeast, the kerosene-fueled engines revved up to produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust for the first two and a half minutes of the flight.

Then the booster stage detached to begin a descent to SpaceX’s drone “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the Atlantic Ocean. Titanium grid fins extended to give the cigar-shaped thruster some aerodynamic lift, helping steer the rocket to its landing spot east of Charleston, South Carolina.

A brake burn slowed the booster stage 15 floors for a vertical landing. The reusable rocket stage, which is completing its fifth flight, covered the 400 miles between launch and landing sites in about eight and a half minutes.

The drone ship will return the booster to Cape Canaveral for refurbishment. Meanwhile, the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket continued in orbit, reaching a speed of nearly 5 miles per second (8 kilometers per second).

Two burns by the second-stage Merlin engine placed the 53 Starlink satellites into a near-circular orbit nearly 200 miles (about 310 kilometers) above Earth. The orbital inclination was 53.2 degrees relative to the equator.

Retention devices released to allow flat-packed Starlink satellites to fly freely from the upper stage approximately one hour after liftoff, when Falcon 9 hovered over South Australia.

The upper stage was to fire an additional engine, allowing the spent rocket to de-orbit for a destructive re-entry, ensuring it did not become space junk.

The Starlink satellites, each weighing more than a quarter ton, were programmed to deploy solar panels to generate power, then perform automated health checks before using onboard ion thrusters to maneuver to their operational altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers). The climb into orbit will take weeks, if not months.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 39A along with 53 other Starlink internet satellites. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

Following Wednesday’s mission, designated Starlink 4-18, SpaceX has launched 2,653 Starlink satellites to date, including spacecraft that have been taken out of service or experienced failures. More than 2,300 of those satellites are in orbit and functioning this week, according to a list kept by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who closely tracks spaceflight activity.

The Wednesday morning launch marked the Falcon 9’s third flight in five days, departing from SpaceX’s three active launch pads in California and Florida. Each of the three missions deployed 53 Starlink satellites.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Force Base Vandenberg in California on Friday, then SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 on Saturday from Pad 40 at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral. Wednesday’s mission took off from Kennedy Space Center, a few miles north of Pad 40.

The launch was the 47th SpaceX mission primarily dedicated to carrying Starlink satellites into orbit. The blistering pace of SpaceX launches will continue next week with the next small satellite carpool flight, known as Transporter 5, which is set to lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket.

Dozens of small satellites from external government and commercial customers will be launched on the Transporter 5 mission. Launch from Pad 40 is scheduled for next Wednesday, May 25, at approximately 2:30 p.m. EDT (6:30 p.m. GMT). The Falcon 9 booster will return to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral for shore recovery.

SpaceX is set to begin its launch campaign in June with a Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station, which is scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center on June 7. Additional SpaceX flights in June will launch the Nilesat 301 geostationary communications satellite for Egyptian operator Nilesat. , the German Army’s SARah 1 radar observation spacecraft, the SES 22 broadcast payload and other Starlink internet satellites.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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