Continuing the company’s busiest planned year yet, SpaceX sent a drone for the first of two more Falcon 9 Starlink launches scheduled before the end of the month.
While a few weeks ago there were signs that SpaceX had as many as four Starlink launches planned this month, that appears to have dropped to three. In theory, SpaceX could have completed renovations to its two East Coast launch pads – LC-40 and LC-39A – earlier this week after supporting launches on January 31 and February 3. SpaceX may take an extra week to better understand a space weather anomaly that recently took down more than three dozen Starlink satellites, to perform more in-depth pad maintenance, to refurbish well-worn Falcon rockets, or simply to give a bit of a boost. respite to its launch staff. but either way, the company’s next Falcon 9 launch appears to be slated for no earlier (NET) than 9:54 a.m. EST (2:54 p.m. UTC), Sunday, February 20.
The A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG) drone departed Port Canaveral on February 16 and is heading approximately 636 kilometers (395 mi) downstream to support Starlink 4-8’s Falcon 9 booster landing. The mission will be the new drone’s fourth consecutive recovery – an unintended situation forced upon it when the Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) drone suffered damage during SpaceX’s last booster recovery in 2021. In addition to almost slipping off the deck, Falcon 9 booster B1069 suffered significant damage to most or all of its nine Merlin 1D engines when JRTI’s “Octagrabber” robot actually dropped the booster on its head during recovery operations.
It was only thanks to the heroism of the human recovery team that B1069 could be secured to the deck of the JRTI drone and returned to land in (more or less) one piece. Based on new aerial footage from local photographer Julia Bergeron, it appears JRTI needed repairs to the deck after the ordeal. Equally important, the ship’s Octagrabber robot – which bore the brunt of B1069’s downfall – appears to have been fully repaired and was tested on deck on February 15. Oddly enough, while the ASOG drone has done a great job of filling in, SpaceX has yet to have a fully rated booster recovery since the B1069 anomaly.
Hopefully this will wrap up later this month and the company’s three Octagrabbers will resume routine recovery operations. Following the launch of Starlink 4-8 from Cape Canaveral, SpaceX is planning at least one more Starlink mission – this time from the West Coast. SpaceX last launched from its Vandenberg SLC-4E pad on February 2 and set a record 24-day lead time late last year, implying that the Starlink mission is likely scheduled in the last days of February.
If successful, SpaceX will have launched eight times in the first two months of 2022 and 13 times in the last three months, demonstrating a cadence of up to 48-52 launches per year if the company can keep up. . SpaceX’s official target for 2022 is 52 Falcon launches.