SpaceX to resume Starlink flights, extending reused Falcon rockets to their limits – Spaceflight Now

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands on pad 40 on Tuesday at the Cape Canaveral Space Force station. The burnt out first stage booster flew through space and back six times. Credit: Steven Young / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX aims to resume satellite launch for its Starlink Internet network with the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday night at Cape Canaveral, and company founder Elon Musk has said SpaceX will use up the massive backlog of Starlink missions. to keep pushing the limits and finding the Falcon booster. reuse the life limit.

“There doesn’t seem to be an obvious limit to the reusability of the vehicle,” Musk told Spaceflight Now at a press conference Friday after the launch of SpaceX’s third crewed flight to the International Space Station.

The launch on Friday of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavor spacecraft from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center marked the first time the company has sent astronauts into space on a reused Falcon 9 booster and refurbished crew capsule. NASA engineers have officially certified the first stage of the Falcon 9 previously used to transport astronauts, after more than 50 Falcon rocket flights have been successfully reused by SpaceX since 2017.

“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,” Musk said. “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 you picked up any passengers.

“So I think that’s probably a couple of flights is 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 will soon have a 10th flight with a Starlink mission. “

After a brief pause in Starlink launches to focus on the Crew Dragon mission, SpaceX is set to send another 60 internet satellites into orbit with a late-night lift off Wednesday from space station 40. from Cape Canaveral. Wednesday night’s mission recall – tail number B1060 – has flown six times since last June.

The instant launch opportunity on Wednesday is set at 11:44 p.m. EDT (0344 GMT Thursday). Another Falcon 9 launch with the next batch of Starlink satellites is slated for next week from Kennedy Space Center station 39A.

With Wednesday’s launch, SpaceX will have delivered 1,505 Starlink satellites into space, including prototypes and failed spacecraft that fell out of orbit and burned in the atmosphere. Jonathan McDowell, astronomer and expert in monitoring space flight activities, says 1,374 Starlink satellites are currently in orbit, with the next 60 launches on Wednesday.

The Federal Communications Commission has cleared SpaceX to deploy some 12,000 Starlink satellites operating at Ku-band, Ka-band and V-band frequencies, and at a range of altitudes and inclinations in low earth orbit. The satellites are already transmitting broadband signals at low latency to users who have signed up for the Starlink beta test.

SpaceX officials have previously said that the most recent version of the Falcon 9 booster can perform 10 flights with only minor inspections and renovations between missions. With a redesign, Falcon 9 boosters could complete 100 missions, SpaceX said when the new Block 5 booster design debuted in 2018.

Musk said on Friday that SpaceX plans to continue reusing Falcon 9 boosters until they break, likely exceeding the 10-flight mark.

“We intend to fly the Falcon 9 booster until we see some kind of failure with the Starlink missions, obviously just to make it a life leader,” Musk said.

File photo of a Falcon 9 booster returning to Port Canaveral in June 2020. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX has used its fleet of Falcon 9 boosters to launch Starlink missions at an average rate of more than twice a month so far this year. On some of these missions, SpaceX used reused first stages that set new records for their number of flights.

The most widely used Falcon 9 booster currently in SpaceX’s inventory has logged nine launches and landings, either ashore or on the company’s floating ocean drone, depending on mission requirements.

Last year, a SpaceX official said it cost less than $ 30 million to fly a Falcon 9 rocket with reused parts, such as the payload booster and fairing, the aero- shell-shaped structure that protects the payloads of sensitive satellites during rise in the atmosphere.

Although SpaceX has proven that it can safely reuse the first stages, payload fairings, and Dragon capsules, the Falcon 9 rocket’s top stage remains a single-use component. None of SpaceX’s competitors in the commercial launch industry have successfully revived an orbital-class thruster. Some companies, like Blue Origin and Rocket Lab, plan to eventually salvage and reuse their rocket boosters.

Repeating a mantra he has consistently repeated for decades, Musk said last week that rocket reuse is a “fundamental holy grail breakthrough” needed to revolutionize access to space.

“To make humanity a true space civilization, we need to have a fully and quickly reusable rocket,” Musk said in a Thursday webcast hosted by the X Prize Foundation. “We’ve made progress in that direction with Falcon 9, where the booster is reusable, and the Dragon spacecraft – the top part – is reusable. But the Falcon 9’s second stage and the Dragon’s unpressurized chest are not reusable.

“And I wouldn’t say the booster, spacecraft, and Falcon fairing, they’re not quickly reusable,” Musk said. “It takes a lot of effort, a lot less effort than the space shuttle.”

He said SpaceX’s renovation crews at Cape Canaveral can reduce the turnaround time between Falcon 9 booster flights to less than a month.

“But landing at sea, then having to bring it back, and then take a month or so to get it ready for launch, I wouldn’t call it quick by aircraft standards,” Musk said.

Sixty Starlink satellites are preparing to be deployed from the upper stage of a Falcon 9 rocket during a launch last month. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s next-generation Starship vehicle is designed to be fully and quickly reusable, further reducing launch costs, according to Musk.

The first stage thruster, known as the Super Heavy, will return to the ground within minutes of launch, similar to the profile launched by the Falcon 9 rocket. The Starship will propel itself into Earth orbit, and eventually to destinations in space. distant, then re-enter the atmosphere at the end of its mission for a rocket-assisted vertical landing.

The entire Starship rocket stack will be nearly 120 meters high, with 28 methane-fueled Raptor engines on the first stage and six more Raptor engines on the Starship’s upper stage.

NASA awarded SpaceX a $ 2.9 billion contract on April 16 to develop a derivative of the Starship vehicle to land upcoming astronauts on the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis exploration program.

A NASA-owned Orion crew capsule launched above the space agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will transport astronauts between Earth and lunar orbit, where the crew will dock with the unoccupied spacecraft waiting for move towards the surface of the Moon.

As part of NASA’s flight plans, the Starship will launch astronauts back into space to meet the Orion capsule for their return to Earth.

Despite the use of onboard engines on NASA’s retired reusable space shuttles, each of NASA’s SLS rockets is designed for flight. NASA plans to refurbish and reuse Orion crew pods after splashing at sea.

But the lunar mission is only part of SpaceX’s ambition for the Starship program. The rocket could launch massive clusters of small satellites, such as Starlink spacecraft, gigantic space telescopes, and carry large numbers of people into space. SpaceX says it can deliver payloads in excess of 100 metric tons, or 220,000 pounds, or into low Earth orbit.

“With Starship, we’re hoping to reuse it all,” Musk said. “It’s a difficult problem for rockets, for sure. It took us, we’re like 19 years now. I think the Starship’s design can work. That’s right, it’s a difficult thing to resolve, and NASA’s support is greatly appreciated in that regard. I think it will work. I think it will work.

“I would say it’s only recently that I think full and rapid reuse can be accomplished,” Musk said. “I wasn’t sure for a long time, but I’m sure now.”

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.




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