Cape Canaveral, Florida – SpaceX It launched 60 internet satellites from Starlink into orbit this morning (Feb 4) on a milestone mission in the company’s enhanced reuse.
Two stages Falcon 9 rocket Topped with 60 broadband spacecraft launched from the Space Launch Complex 40 here at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station today at 1:19 a.m. EDT (0619 GMT).
After about nine minutes, the first stage of the missile returned to Earth, landing smoothly on one of SpaceX’s unmanned ships in the Atlantic Ocean. The mega ship, “Of course I still love you,” is one of two SpaceX ships that picks up falling boosters and returns them to port.
This was the fifth launch of the first stage of the Falcon 9, which last flew just 27 days ago – the fastest inter-mission shift of any SpaceX booster. Today’s launch was also the first of nearly two consecutive Starlink takeoffs; Another 60 satellites are scheduled to make the flight early Friday morning (Feb.5) aboard another Falcon 9 plane.
Today’s launch, dubbed Starlink 18, jumped that upcoming flight, known as Starlink 17. The Starlink 17 was supposed to take off on Monday (Feb.1) but was delayed due to bad weather in the recovery area and the need for more – flight checks.
For a while, it seemed like the Starlink 17 would fly this morning, too. Eastern Range, which oversees all launches from the east coast of the United States, SpaceX approved To launch Starlink 17 today from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, adjacent to the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, less than five hours after the launch of Starlink 18.
Had that happened, it would have been the first time since 1966 that two orbital missions were launched from eastern range on the same day, officials of the 45th Space Wing said. Via Twitter yesterday (February 3). On November 11, 1966, the Gemini and Atlas Agena missile was fired with an interval of only 99 minutes.
This short time can happen between Falcon 9 launches because SpaceX operates from two different launch platforms here in Florida and also because Space Force has simplified launch procedures. This simplification is possible in part because all Falcon 9 missiles are equipped with an Automated Flight Termination System (FTS), which reduces the number of personnel required on the control unit for any launch.
FTS is a safety feature that will destroy a missile in a controlled manner if something goes wrong in flight. The Falcon 9 is currently the only American missile that automatically packs an FTS – meaning the onboard computer of the missile can detect if something is wrong and, if so, either turn off the missile engines before takeoff or destroy the vehicle in flight.
Other missiles depend on humans to make this call, but as a condition set by Space Wing, all future launchers (for example Blue Origin’s New Glenn and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur) will have this key feature.
60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/96pHRHXZi0February 4, 2021
With today’s successful launch, SpaceX has now deposited more than 1,000 Starlink satellites into orbit. There are more launches to come; SpaceX’s starlink constellation will consist of 1,440 satellites, and there might be an end Tens of thousands Spacecraft in the network.
Starlink 17, the other part of the Double Header, was originally scheduled to debut on Monday (February 1). Initially pushed for 24 hours to allow improved weather conditions in the recovery area, then delayed several times, causing a shift of places with Starlink 18. SpaceX relies heavily on its fleet of reused rockets, so the company wants to make sure that recovery efforts are successful.
The Starlink 17 will mark the second time one of the first stages of the company’s Falcon 9 has flown eight times. The booster, known as the B1049, launched a Telstar communications satellite in September 2018, lifted the Iridium NEXT satellite in January 2019, and then flew five different Starlink missions.
Starlink 18’s Falcon 9 first stage, Augmented B1060, set a new record today for the fastest time between flights: The B1060 flew the Turksat 5A satellite into space to Turkey on January 7. Prior to this, it launched a GPS III satellite for the US Space Force and pushed two more Starlink batches as well.
Today’s launch was the fourth in 2021 for SpaceX and the overall 17th mission from Starlink. It was also Flight 107 overall for Falcon 9 workers, as well as the company’s 73rd rocket landing.
SpaceX flew 26 missions in 2020, of which 22 were on refurbished missiles.
The current iteration of the Falcon 9, which entered service in 2018, has the ability to fly multiple times with little renewal in between. That’s thanks to a series of upgrades – including a more robust thermal protection system, titanium mesh fins, and more durable inserts – that make it easier to reuse.
As such, SpaceX has relied heavily on its veteran fleet of rockets, as it has now relaunched a total of 53 Stage 1 boosters since the first landed on Terra Ferma in Cape Canaveral in December 2015.
SpaceX has two landing platforms for unmanned aircraft – “Of Course I Still Love You” and “Just Read the Instructions” – in Florida, allowing it to launch (and land) more missiles. Both mega ships are stationed in their own recovery zones, pending action.
Of Course I Still Love You was recently replenished after busy 2020. He did his job picking up rockets today, and “Just Read the Instructions” will be called into action on Friday.
SpaceX’s very big year: 2020 to launch astronauts, spacecraft tests, and more
SpaceX also has two net speed boats designed to restore flow of drop payload, the protective nose cones that surround satellites during launch. Both boats have been posted – GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief – to work. They were hanging out in the harbor in Morehead City, North Carolina, until weather conditions improved and SpaceX could launch the Starlink 18 mission.
During most of the week the seas in the recovery area were very rough for boats, but that is cleared up today and the company can safely recover all of their hardware.
GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief will likely harvest both gift pieces – SpaceX Gifts Return to Earth in Two Halves – out of the ocean for future reuse. The gift halves have been used in this mission before.
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