EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch premium live coverage of the Falcon 9 launch with Starlink mission 4-37.
SpaceX launched 54 more Starlink internet satellites on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, using the Falcon 9 on its 15th flight to space, a record for the company’s reusable rocket fleet.
Liftoff of the 229-foot-long (70-meter) Falcon 9 occurred at 4:32:30 pm EST (2132:30 GMT) Saturday from Launch Complex 39A. It’s the third Falcon 9 launch in less than 34 hours, following Friday’s launches from the Cape Canaveral Space Station — just a few miles from pad 39A — and the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Those flights deployed the US-French SWOT satellite, designed to survey Earth’s surface water resources, and two commercial broadband satellites for the SES’ O3b mPOWER constellation.
SpaceX postponed the Starlink launch, designated 4-37 Starlink, from Friday to focus on the O3b mPOWER mission for SES, one of SpaceX’s long-term customers.
Falcon 9 looking north-northeast from Space Florida in low Earth orbit inclined 53.2 degrees to the equator. The above scene shows the rocket launching the 54 Starlink satellites about 15 minutes into the mission.
Add the satellites on board the Falcon 9 to SpaceX’s high-speed, high-latency internet network. Subscribers can connect to the Starlink network in more than 40 countries and regions.
The first stage of the course was set on the Starlink 4-37 mission statement for SpaceX’s reusable rockets. The race stage, tail number B1058, was designated on May 30, 2020, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on the first human space mission.
It has now flown only 15 times, helping to free 777 satellites into orbit, including launching 54 of Saturn’s Starlink internet satellites. The missions flown by B1058 included the launch of a South Korean military communications satellite, a cargo mission to the space station, two small cargo satellite rideshare missions, and 10 flights with Starlink satellites.
Saturday’s mission was SpaceX’s first Starlink since Oct. 27. Since then, SpaceX has launched nine consecutive missions for commercial and US government customers.
After the Saturn mission, SpaceX launched Starlink satellites into orbit at 3,612, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The company currently has more than 3,200 operating satellites in the Starlink space, with about 3,000 operational and nearly 200 moving into operational orbits, according to Jonathan McDowell, an expert space flight activity researcher and astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center. Astrophysics
54 new Starlink satellites have been launched into one of five orbital “shells” in SpaceX’s Internet constellation.
SpaceX is targeting Shell 4 with a Saturn mission. The architecture of the network includes satellites flying a few hundred miles, orbiting at inclinations of 97.6 degrees, 70 degrees, 53.2 degrees, and 53.0 degrees to the equator. A radio beam of space internet signals to consumers around the world, connectivity that is now available on all seven continents with tests being conducted at a research station in Antarctica.
SpaceX is more than halfway through deploying its initial fleet of 4,400 Starlink internet satellites. The company has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually launch and operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites, and SpaceX has indicated that it intends to fly as many as 42,000 Starlink satellites into orbit.
SpaceX is developing an upgraded, much larger Starlink-sized satellite design to launch on the company’s next-generation Starship rocket. But Starship has not yet attempted a launch into low Earth orbit, and delays in developing and testing the new rocket will force SpaceX to begin designing a smaller version of the new Starlink satellites on Falcon 9 rockets.
The Starlink network was conceived as a venture to help draw in revenue to fund SpaceX’s ambition to build a base on Mars. The star rocket itself, which is designed to be fully reusable with relatively low operating costs, is the centerpiece of Elon Musk’s Mars dream.
Saturday’s launch was SpaceX’s 59th launch so far in 2022. Two more Falcon 9 squadrons are scheduled to fly before the end of the year, one from Florida and the other from California.
The higher launch rate was aided by shorter turnarounds between missions at launch pads in Florida and California, and SpaceX’s reuse of Falcon 9 boosters and market earnings helped. Launches carrying satellites for SpaceX’s own Starlink internet network, like the Saturn mission, account for more than half of the company’s Falcon 9 flights this year.
Positioned inside the launch control center south of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for Saturday’s countdown, the SpaceX launch team loaded super-cooled, condensed kerosene and liquid oxygen into the Falcon 9 vehicle for T-minus 35 minutes.
Helium pressure was also flowing into the rocket in the last half hour. In the last seven minutes before liftoffs, the Falcon IX’s Merlin main flight engines were thermally conditioned through a process known as “cooling”. The Falcon 9’s guidance and security systems were also configured for launch.
After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket will carry 1.7 million pounds of propellant — produced by nine Merlin cannons — to the North Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket exceeded the speed of sound for about one minute, then shut down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after liftoff. The launch stage is launched from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then a pulse from the cold exhaust gases ignites and the fins of the titanium grill extend to help propel the vehicle back into the atmosphere.
Two braking fires slowed the rocket to port in the drone ship “Just Read Instructions” about 400 miles (650 kilometers) downrange about nine minutes after liftoff.
Falcon 9 reusable payload faire launching in the second burning stage. A recovery ship was also on station in the Atlantic to recover two halves of the nose cone after they splashed under parachutes.
The exit of the first stage on Saturday’s mission took place moments after the Falcon 9’s second engine cut off to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. The separation of the space 54 Starlink spacecraft, by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket (T+15 minutes) was confirmed in 22 seconds.
Retention rods are released from the Starlink stack, allowing the packed satellites to fly from the Falcon 9’s upper stage into orbit. Spacecraft 54 will deploy its own clothing and run through automated activation stages, then use krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver in their operational orbit.
Falcon 9 uses computer control to deploy satellites in an elliptical orbit inclined at 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.
Once they have reached operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial operations and begin consuming radio signals that can be purchased from Starlink’s service and connected to the network at SpaceX’s terminal site.
ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1058.15)
PAYLOAD: 54 Starlink Satellites (Starlink 4-37)
Send Site: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
SEND DATE: 17 Dec
SEND TIME: 4:32:30 pm EST (2132:30 GMT)
STORMS ARE FORECASTED: 60% chance of inclement weather; There is a low risk of higher winds; Low-moderate risk of unfair recovery conditions
RECOVERY BOOSTER: “Just Read the Instructions” ship drone east of Carolina, South Carolina
SEND AZIMUTH: In the north
PARMA ORBITS: 144 miles 208 kilometers (232 miles 335 kilometers), gradient 53.2 degrees
- T+00:00: Liftoff
- T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
- T+02:27: First stage main engine interval (MECO)
- T+02:31: Time of separation
- T+02:38: Second stage engine ignition
- T+02:42: Fairing jettison
- T+06:47: Fire the first stage entry fire (three guns)
- T + 07:06: The first stage of the entry fire interval
- T + 08:28: First stage port fire burning (one engine)
- T+08:41: Second machine interval (SECO 1)
- T + 08:49: First port scene
- T+15:22: Starlink satellite separation
- 192nd launch of Falcon 9 with rocket 2010
- 201st launch of the Falcon rocket family since 2006
- 15th launch of Falcon 9 flight B1058
- 164th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
- 59th SpaceX launch from pad 39A
- 153rd overall from pad 39A
- 131st flight from the pole guilty of 9 courses
- 66 Falcon 9 launched primarily for the Starlink network
- 58th Falcon 9 launch of 2022
- 59th launch by SpaceX in 2022
- The 56th orbital launch attempt is based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022
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