Sunday, February 5, 2023

SpaceX Booster Launches Fifteenth Time on Starlink Mission – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX launched 54 Starlink internet satellites from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, using a Falcon 9 booster for its 15th flight into space, a record for the company’s fleet of reusable rockets.

The 229-foot (70-meter) Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A on Saturday at 4:32:30 EST (21:32:30 GMT). It was the third Falcon 9 launch in less than 34 hours, following Friday’s missions from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, a few miles from Pad 39A, and Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Those flights deployed the US-French SWOT satellite, designed to study Earth’s surface water resources, and two commercial broadband satellites of SES’s O3B mPower constellation.

SpaceX has delayed the launch of Starlink 4-37, codenamed Starlink, from Friday to focus on the O3B mPower mission for SES, one of SpaceX’s oldest customers.

Turning northeast of the Florida Space Coast, Falcon 9 is aiming for a low-Earth orbit inclined 53.2 degrees to the equator. The rocket’s upper stage launched 54 flat-pack Starlink satellites about 15 minutes into the mission.

The satellites aboard the Falcon 9 will connect consumers to high-speed, low-latency Internet. Currently, customers can connect to the Starlink network in more than 40 countries and regions.

The first stage booster for the Starlink 4-37 mission set a record for SpaceX’s reusable rocket. The booster stage, tail number B1058, began on May 30, 2020, with the historic launch of NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on SpaceX’s first human spaceflight mission.

It has flown 15 times so far, helping launch 777 satellites into orbit, including the 54 Starlink internet satellites launched on Saturday. Missions flown by B1058 included the launch of a military communications satellite to South Korea, a space station cargo mission, two small satellite transport missions, and 10 flights with Starlink satellites.

Lined up at Launch Complex 39A on December 16, a Falcon 9 rocket is ready for launch with 54 Starlink Internet satellites. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Saturday’s launch was SpaceX’s first Starlink mission since October 27. Since then, SpaceX has launched nine consecutive missions for commercial customers and the US government.

After Saturday’s mission, SpaceX launched 3,612 Starlink satellites into orbit, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The company currently has more than 3,200 operational Starlink satellites in space, of which some 3,000 are operational and about 200 are in operational orbit. According to a table by Jonathan McDowell, an expert in monitoring spaceflight activity and an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

54 new Starlink satellites have been launched into one of five orbital “shells” in SpaceX’s Internet constellation.

SpaceX Shell 4 hit a mission target on Saturday. The network architecture consists of satellites that fly to an altitude of a few hundred miles, orbiting at inclinations of 97.6°, 70°, 53.2°, and 53.0° with respect to the equator. The spacecraft sends broadband Internet signals to consumers around the world, and connectivity is now available on all seven continents, with tests underway at a research station in Antarctica.

SpaceX is more than halfway through deploying an initial fleet of 4,400 Starlink internet satellites. The company has ultimately received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch and operate 12,000 Starlink spacecraft, and SpaceX has indicated that it aims to launch 42,000 Starlink satellites into orbit.

SpaceX is developing an improved satellite design than Starlink to be launched on the company’s next-generation Starship megarocket. But the spacecraft has not yet attempted a launch into low-Earth orbit, and delays in development and testing of the new rocket forced SpaceX to launch a smaller version of the newly designed Starlink satellite on a Falcon rocket. Will have to be

The Starlink network is designed as a project to help attract revenue to finance SpaceX’s ambition to base itself on Mars. The Starship rocket, designed to be fully reusable with relatively low operating costs, is central to Elon Musk’s Mars dream.

Saturday’s launch was SpaceX’s 59th launch so far in 2022. Two more Falcon 9 launches are scheduled before the end of the year, one from Florida and one from California.

The higher launch rate was supported by shorter wait times between missions at launch pads in Florida and California and by SpaceX’s reuse of the Falcon 9 booster and payload fairing. Launches carrying satellites like Saturday’s mission for SpaceX’s Starlink internet network have accounted for more than half of the company’s Falcon 9 flights so far this year.

credit: Spaceflight Now

On Saturday, the SpaceX launch team stationed inside the launch control center south of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Countdown Station began loading ultracondensed kerosene and liquid oxygen propellant into the Falcon 9 vehicle in T-less 35 minutes.

The helium pressurized material also flown into the rocket in the last half hour of the countdown. In the final seven minutes before takeoff, the Falcon 9 Merlin’s main engines are thermally conditioned for flight through a process called “cooling”. Falcon 9’s field protection and guidance systems are also configured for launch.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket directed its 1.7 million pounds of power, produced by nine Merlin engines, to soar across the northeast Atlantic.

The missile exceeded the speed of sound in about a minute, then shut down all nine of its main engines two and a half minutes after takeoff. The booster stage was fired from the Falcon 9’s upper stage and then pulses were fired from the cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grid fins to help guide the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

A brake burn slowed the missile as it landed with a “just read the instructions” drone at about 400 miles (650 km) about nine minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing was ejected during the second stage burn. The salvage ship was also on station in the Atlantic to recover parts of the nose cone after spraying with parachutes.

The landing of the first stage of Saturday’s mission came moments after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine stalled to launch the Starlink satellites into orbit. The 54 Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, WA, has been confirmed to have separated from a Falcon 9 rocket at T+ plus 15 minutes and 22 seconds.

The detection rods protrude from Starlink’s payload stack, allowing the flat satellites to fly independently into orbit from the Falcon 9 upper stage. The spacecraft will launch 54 solar arrays, power them through automated activation stages, and then use krypton-fueled ion engines to propel them into an operational orbit.

The Falcon 9 guidance computer aims to deploy the satellites into an elliptical orbit with an inclination of 53.2° relative to the equator. The satellites will use onboard thrusters to do the rest and enter a circular orbit 540 kilometers (335 mi) above Earth.

After reaching their operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin broadcasting broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network through a ground station provided by SpaceX.

Rocket: Falcon 9 (B1058.15)

Useful load: 54 satellites Starlink (Starlink 4-37)

Launch Site: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Lunch Appointment: December 17, 2022

lunch time: 16:32:30 EST (21:32:30 GMT)

Weather Forecast: 60% chance of good weather; reduced risk of high winds; Low to moderate risk of adverse conditions for enhanced recovery

Boost Recovery: An unmanned boat with a “Bus read the directions” logo east of Charleston, South Carolina

Azimuth Projection: Northeast

Target Class: 144 mi by 208 mi (232 km by 335 km), 53.2°

Release Schedule:

  • T+00:00: Fly
  • T+01:12: Maximum Air Pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:27: Main Engine Shutdown (MECO) first stage
  • T+02:31: Phase separation
  • T+02:38: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:42: Silence Off
  • T+06:47: First stage inlet burner ignition (three motors)
  • T+07:06: 1st stage input afterburner shutdown
  • T+08:28: Initiated first stage combustion (single engine)
  • T+08:41: 2nd stage engine shutdown (DRY 1)
  • T+08:49: First stage descent
  • T+15:22: Starlink satellite disconnected

Mission Stats:

  • Falcon 9’s 192nd launch since 2010
  • 201st release in the Falcon family since 2006
  • Fifteenth launch of Falcon 9 Booster B1058
  • Falcon 9’s 164th launch from the Florida Space Coast
  • SpaceX #59 launch from Pad 39A
  • Overall 153rd release from Board 39A
  • Flight 131 Falcon 9 booster repurposed
  • Falcon 9’s 66th launch is primarily for the Starlink network
  • Falcon 9’s 58th launch in 2022
  • SpaceX #59 launch in 2022
  • 56th orbital launch attempt from Cape Canaveral in 2022
Nation World News Desk
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