SpaceX Launches 53 More Starlink Satellites

SpaceX launched another batch of 53 Starlink internet satellites at 5:42 a.m. EDT (0942 GMT) Friday from the Kennedy Space Center. The booster nailed its landing on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, completing its 12th flight to space.

SpaceX teams at Cape Canaveral rolled the Falcon 9 rocket from its hangar to pad 39A and raised it vertical Thursday. Beginning at T-minus 35 minutes, the launch team will oversee loading of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Falcon 9 through an automated, computer-controlled sequencer.

Helium pressurant will also flowed into the rocket. In the final seven minutes of the countdown, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines will be thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “chilldown.” The Falcon 9’s guidance and range safety systems will also be configured for launch at 5:42 a.m.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket will vector its 1.7 million pounds of thrust — produced by nine Merlin engines — to steer northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket will surpass the speed of sound in about one minute, then shut down its nine main engines two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. The booster will detach and fire pulses from cold gas control thrusters, then extend titanium grid fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two braking burns will slow down the rocket for landing on the drone ship around 400 miles (650 kilometers) downrange.

This booster — tail number B1058 — will launch on its 12th mission, becoming the third stage in SpaceX’s inventory to reach that milestone. The booster debuted in May 2020 with the launch of the first test flight of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts.

About eight-and-a-half minutes after Friday’s launch, the booster landed on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” positioned roughly due east of Charleston, South Carolina.

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The landing will occur just prior to shutdown of the upper stage engine. The rocket will coast halfway around the world before reigniting the Merlin-Vacuum upper stage engine about 45 minutes into the mission, paving the way for separation of the 53 Starlink satellites at T+plus 54 minutes, 30 seconds.

 

Retention rods holding the satellites into a flat-packed configuration on the rocket will jettison, allowing the Starlink platforms to fly away from the second stage. They will unfurl solar arrays and run through automated activation steps, then use krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.

The Falcon 9 will aim to deploy the satellites in a near-circular orbit ranging in altitude between 189 miles and 197 miles (304 by 317 kilometers), at an orbital inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use on-board propulsion to do the rest of the work to reach a circular orbit 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth.

The Starlink satellites on Friday’s mission will fly in one of five orbital “shells” used in SpaceX’s global internet network. After reaching their operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin beaming broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network with a SpaceX-supplied ground terminal.

After Friday’s mission, SpaceX will have launched 2,494 Starlink satellites to date, including spacecraft that were decommissioned or suffered failures. More than 2,100 of those satellites are in orbit and functioning as of this week, according to a list maintained by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who closely tracks spaceflight activity.