SpaceX rocket launches 60 more Starlink satellites, nails 7th sea landing

CAP CANAVERAL, Fla .– A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a new batch of 60 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit Wednesday evening (April 28) and successfully landed at sea to cap off a successful mission.

The veteran Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at the Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida at 11:44 p.m. EDT (0344 April 29 GMT), marking the company’s 10th launch of the year.

“The first stage of the Falcon 9 has landed for its seventh time,” SpaceX engineer Jessie Anderson said during the launch broadcast. “This marks our 81st recovery of an orbital-class rocket.”

About nine minutes later, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth, landing on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone, for its seventh successful landing.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches on the Starlink 24 mission on April 28, 2021, at 11:44 p.m. EDT (3:44 a.m. April 29 GMT). (Image credit: SpaceX)

The launch marked the third of the evening, as Arianespace launched a Vega rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, about two hours earlier, at 9:50 p.m. EDT (1:50 GMT on April 29). China then launched the base module for its next space station at 11:23 p.m. EST (12:23 a.m. GMT April 29), followed by SpaceX.

SpaceX continues the rapid launch pace set last year, as the Hawthorne, Calif.-Based rocket maker celebrated its 12th launch so far in 2021. The majority of those launches have been Starlink’s own satellites. SpaceX, the company surpassing its initial Internet constellation of 1,440 broadband satellites.

This constellation could potentially have tens of thousands of satellites, as SpaceX has permission to launch up to 30,000, with an option for even more.

Forecasters from the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron predicted favorable conditions for the launch and the weather did not disappoint.

The Falcon 9 booster stuck a landing on the drone ship “Just read the instructions.” (Image credit: SpaceX)

Quick reuse

The booster for Wednesday’s launch, called the B1060, is part of SpaceX’s fleet of flight-proven boosters. The veteran pilot now has seven launches and landings under his belt as the company plans to push its Falcon 9 rockets to the limit.

The B1060 debuted in June 2020, when it carried an improved GPS III satellite into space for the US Space Force. This mission was the first time the military has given SpaceX the green light to move forward and reclaim the booster. (Previously, all military missions flew on consumable rockets.)

Once the booster returned to port, it was ready for its next mission: transporting a stack of Starlink Internet satellites into space. Following back-to-back Starlink missions, the veteran recall then transported a communications satellite into space for Turkey.

His subsequent missions all contained Starlink payloads. Wednesday’s flight marks the fifth load of broadband satellites this particular thruster has carried into space. SpaceX used its previously used thrusters with the most kilometers to transport its own satellites into space.

All 60 Starlink satellites launched as part of SpaceX’s Starlink 24 mission successfully deployed about an hour after takeoff. (Image credit: SpaceX)

This is the 115th overall flight of the Falcon 9 and the 61st flight of a used and refurbished booster. In fact, every SpaceX launch so far in 2021 has been carried out on a rocket proven to fly.

When the upgraded Falcon 9 debuted in 2018, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told reporters the company expected every Falcon 9 to fly 10 times with little in between flights, and up to 100 times before retirement.

The company has learned a lot from the renovation process, and according to Musk, there doesn’t seem to be a hard limit on how many flights a given Falcon 9 can fly.

“You probably don’t want to be a leader for a crewed mission, but it’s probably good to have a flight or two under your belt, so that the booster has flown once or twice,” he said. declared during a post-launch. media call after astronaut Crew-2’s mission to space station. “If this was a plane coming out of the factory, you’d want the plane to have probably had a test flight or two before putting passengers on board.”

“So I think it’s probably two or three flights, that’s a good number for a crew recall, and in the meantime we’ll continue to fly the leader of life,” Musk said. “We have nine flights on one of the boosters. We’re going to have a 10th flight with a Starlink mission soon.”

Musk has indicated that the company will push the Falcons to the limit and continue to fly them on Starlink missions until they break, which may well surpass the 10 flights previously scheduled.

Having a fleet of proven rockets in flight allows SpaceX to keep up with its rapid launch pace. However, company officials stressed that while the loss of a thruster is unfortunate, the primary goal of every mission is always to deliver the payload safely to its intended orbit. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

Constellation expansion

With the success of Wednesday’s launch, SpaceX has put more than 1,500 Starlink satellites into orbit, some of which are no longer operational. It goes beyond the company’s initial quota, but there are many more launches to come as the company has sought approval for tens of thousands more.

SpaceX has launched its vast Internet constellation, to help provide Internet coverage around the world, especially in remote and rural areas. To this end, the company’s engineers have designed a fleet of flat-panel broadband satellites to fly over the Earth, broadcasting Internet coverage to users who can access the service through a compact user terminal.

Currently, Starlink is still in its beta testing phase with users in the US, Canada, UK, Germany and New Zealand able to access the service. The company is currently taking preorders for the internet service, but plans a full rollout later this year. Potential users can go to the company’s website and book the service with a $ 99 deposit now.

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SpaceX isn’t the only company aspiring to connect the world. OneWeb, Amazon, and Telstar all predicted constellations. However, OneWeb is currently the only other service with actual satellites in space.

The London-based company launched 36 of its satellites last month on a Russian Soyuz as it works to fill its planned constellation containing 650 satellites. (To date, OneWeb has launched five of the 19 planned missions.)

There was a small breach between SpaceX and OneWeb this month as OneWeb reported that one of its satellites had a “ close call ” with one of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. More recent filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shed light on the incident, showing that there was no potential collision and that the situation was overblown.

SpaceX recently signed an agreement with NASA to move its satellites away in the event of close calls with one of the agency’s satellites or the International Space Station. This only concerns NASA though; currently, there are no global or national regulations that would require a company to move its satellites out of the way of another entity.

In 2020, the space station had to adjust its orbit several times to avoid possible collisions with objects in orbit. The creation of this Space Act agreement with SpaceX is therefore an important step towards mitigating potential collisions.

Fairing recovery

The SpaceX boat equipped with a GO mesh Ms. Tree catches a Falcon 9 payload fairing half on August 18, 2020. (Image credit: Elon Musk via Twitter)

The two fairing halves featured in Wednesday’s mission are brand new, and hopefully they’ll be flying again soon.

In other words, if they land intact. Thanks to the onboard parachutes and navigation software, the valve-shaped material will return to Earth and splash gently into the Atlantic Ocean. From there, the two fairing pieces will be pulled out of the water by SpaceX’s latest ship, a bright pink and blue ship named Shelia Bordelon.

This is now the third mission for Shelia Bordelon, who uses an on-board crane to retrieve the fairings.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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