SpaceX set to launch 53 more Starlink internet satellites – Spaceflight Now

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Starlink 4-19 mission launched SpaceX’s next batch of 53 Starlink broadband satellites. Follow us on Twitter.

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SpaceX plans to launch a reusable Falcon 9 booster for a record-breaking 13th time Friday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, hauling 53 more Starlink internet satellites into orbit. Liftoff from pad 39A is set for 12:08 p.m. EDT (1608 GMT).

The Falcon 9 will head northeast from Kennedy to deliver the flat-packed broadband relay stations to an orbit ranging between 144 miles and 209 miles in altitude (232-by-337 kilometers). Deployment of the 53 flat-packed satellites from the Falcon 9’s upper stage is expected about 15 minutes after liftoff.

The launch will kick off a busy weekend for SpaceX, with two more Falcon 9 flights on tap Saturday and Sunday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, then from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, a few miles south of the Kennedy Space Center.

With Friday’s mission, SpaceX will have launched 2,706 Starlink internet satellites, including prototypes and test units no longer in service, nearly an order of magnitude more spacecraft than any other spacecraft fleet. The launch Friday will mark the 48th SpaceX mission primarily dedicated to hauling Starlink internet satellites into orbit.

Stationed inside a firing room at Kennedy’s launch control center, SpaceX’s launch team will begin loading super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes Friday.

Helium pressurant will also flow into the rocket in the last half-hour of the countdown. In the final seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines will be thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “chilldown.” The Falcon 9’s guidance and range safety systems will also be configured for launch at 12:08:50 p.m.

After liftoff, the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket will vector its 1.7 million pounds of thrust — produced by nine Merlin engines — to steer northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket will exceed the speed of sound in about one minute, then shut down its nine main engines two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. The booster will release from from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired pulses from cold gas control thrusters and extend titanium grid fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two braking burns will slow the rocket for landing on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” around 400 miles (650 kilometers) downrange approximately eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.

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The booster stage flying Friday — tail number B1060 — will set a new record to become the most-flown member of SpaceX’s fleet of reusable rockets. It debuted June 30, 2020, with the launch of a GPS navigation satellite for the U.S. military, then flew again in September and October of 2020 on Starlink missions.

It launched six times in 2021 with the Türksat 5A geostationary communications satellite, four Starlink missions, and SpaceX’s Transporter 2 small satellite rideshare mission. Friday’s launch will be the booster’s fourth flight of 2022, all dedicated flights for the Starlink network.

SpaceX has qualified Falcon 9 boosters for at least 15 missions, up from the previous design life of 10 flights for each Falcon 9 first stage.

Landing of the first stage on Friday’s mission will occur moments before the Falcon 9’s second stage engine cuts off to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. Separation of the 53 spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, is planned at T+plus 15 minutes, 26 seconds.

Retention rods will release from the Starlink payload stack, allowing the flat-packed satellites to fly free from the Falcon 9’s upper stage in orbit. The 53 spacecraft will unfurl solar arrays and run through automated activation steps, then use krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.

The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aimed to deploy the satellites in an elliptical orbit between 144 and 209 miles in altitude, at an orbital inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use on-board propulsion to do the rest of the work to reach a circular orbit 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth.

The launch Friday will be the first to place Starlink satellites into a lower-altitude elliptical transfer orbit since February, when aerodynamic drag produced by a solar storm caused nearly 40 Starlink satellites to re-enter the atmosphere shortly after launch. Since then, all of SpaceX’s Starlink launches have included two burns by the upper stage engine to climb to a higher orbit for spacecraft deployment.

The Starlink satellites on Friday’s mission will fly in one of five orbital “shells” used in SpaceX’s global internet network. After reaching their operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin beaming broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network with a SpaceX-supplied ground terminal.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1060.13)

PAYLOAD: 53 Starlink satellites (Starlink 4-19)

LAUNCH SITE: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: June 17, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 12:08:50 p.m. EDT (1608:50 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: 90% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of upper level winds; Low risk of unfavorable conditions for booster recovery

BOOSTER RECOVERY: “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone ship east of Charleston, South Carolina

LAUNCH AZIMUTH: Northeast

TARGET ORBIT: 144 miles by 209 miles (232 kilometers by 337 kilometers), 53.2 degrees inclination

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Liftoff
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:27: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:30: Stage separation
  • T+02:37: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:42: Fairing jettison
  • T+06:47: First stage entry burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+07:07: First stage entry burn cutoff
  • T+08:24: First stage landing burn ignition (one engine)
  • T+08:35: First stage landing
  • T+08:45: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 1)
  • T+15:26: Starlink satellite separation

MISSION STATS:

  • 158th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 166th launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
  • 13th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1060
  • 138th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 50th SpaceX launch from pad 39A
  • 144th launch overall from pad 39A
  • 100th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
  • 48th dedicated Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites
  • 24th Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 24th launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 25th orbital launch attempt based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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