While the SpaceX crew’s next mission awaits a shoreline launch opportunity, another Falcon 9 rocket is set to lift off from Cape Canaveral on Thursday with another group of 53 Starlink internet satellites heading into a deployment orbit at nearly 200 miles above Earth.
The SpaceX launch team at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station rolled the Falcon 9 from its hangar to Pad 40 on Wednesday and then hoisted the rocket 70 meters (229 feet) high on its starting blocks on Wednesday night.
After completing launch preparations overnight, SpaceX will begin loading liquid oxygen and super-cooled densified kerosene propellants into the Falcon 9 approximately 35 minutes before liftoff.
The launch is scheduled for Thursday at 11:14 am EDT (15:14 GMT) to begin SpaceX’s 42nd launch, primarily dedicated to putting satellites into orbit for the company’s privately funded Starlink Internet network.
There is a 70% chance of favorable weather for launch on Thursday morning, according to the US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron. The main weather concern on Thursday is off-shore winds at Cape Canaveral, which are forecast with gusts up to 22 mph from the east.
Otherwise, the weather team predicts that conditions will be favorable for launch, with partly cloudy skies, good visibility and a temperature of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
The mission, dubbed Starlink 4-14, will be SpaceX’s 15th Falcon 9 launch of the year and the 149th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket since the launcher debuted on June 4, 2010.
Following a profile familiar to launch watchers, Falcon 9 will head northeast from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, flying through the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines will produce about 1.7 million pounds of thrust at full power.
The engines will shut down and the booster will separate from the Falcon 9 second stage about two and a half minutes after liftoff. The second stage’s single Merlin engine will fire to push Starlink’s 53 payloads into a preliminary parking orbit, while the booster is set for a blistering dive into the atmosphere.
The first stage will extend four titanium hypersonic grid fins to help orient itself through the rarefied upper atmosphere. An entry burn with three of the first stage engines, then a final brake burn with a single engine, will slow the rocket down to land on the football field sized drone “Just read the instructions” .
The landing pad will be placed in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles east of Charleston, South Carolina. After the rocket lands, the drone ship will return the 15-story-high booster to Cape Canaveral for refurbishment.
The booster flying on Thursday’s mission will make its 12th flight into space, tying a record number of flights for SpaceX’s fleet of reusable rockets. The rocket, tail number B1060, was first launched on June 30, 2020 with a US military GPS navigation satellite.
Most recently, the booster launched on March 3 with an earlier batch of Starlink internet satellites.
The Falcon 9 upper stage engine is expected to shut down nearly nine minutes into the mission, moments after the first stage’s scheduled landing in the Atlantic Ocean.
After sailing across the North Atlantic, over Europe and the Middle East, then across the Indian Ocean, the upper stage is scheduled to re-ignite its engine for a brief one-second shot to maneuver all 53 Starlink satellites into the proper orbit. for separation.
Falcon 9’s guidance computer will aim to release the flat-panel satellites just an hour after launch into an orbit between 189 and 197 miles (304 by 318 kilometers) above Earth, tilted 53.2 degrees toward the Ecuador.
The Starlink satellites will enlarge solar arrays and use onboard ion thrusters to reach their operational orbit at an altitude of 540 kilometers (335 miles), where they will enter commercial service for SpaceX.
SpaceX has launched 2,335 Starlink satellites to date. About 2,067 of those satellites are still in orbit and appear to be working, and the rest have failed or gone out of orbit, according to a list maintained by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who closely follows spaceflight activity.
That’s nearly five times the number of satellites currently flying in the second-largest fleet of spacecraft: the Internet constellation owned by Starlink rival OneWeb. Third is Planet, which operates a fleet of more than 200 small Earth-imaging satellites.
SpaceX is in the midst of launching around 4,400 Starlink satellites in five orbital “shells” more than 300 miles above Earth. The projectiles are positioned at different inclinations, and SpaceX completed launches of the first of five Starlink clusters last May.
Ultimately, SpaceX intends to launch up to 42,000 Internet satellites. The final figure depends on market demand for the Starlink service, which offers high-speed, low-latency connectivity.
SpaceX says the service is best suited for customers in remote and hard-to-reach areas, such as rural communities, isolated homes, islands and ships. Customers can sign up for Starlink service online by paying a reservation fee and paying $599 for an antenna and modem. SpaceX charges $110 per month for consumer-grade Starlink service.
SpaceX has partnered with the US military to demonstrate Starlink connectivity to aircraft. Delta Air Lines has also conducted “exploratory” tests of the Starlink system for possible future use on passenger planes, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The launch of the Starlink 4-14 mission will be followed by the flight of another Falcon 9 rocket that is currently on pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a few miles north of pad 40 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Station. Cape Canaveral Space Force.
The launch from Pad 39A will carry four astronauts into orbit aboard SpaceX’s Dragon Freedom spacecraft on NASA’s Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station. The launch is scheduled no earlier than next Tuesday, April 26, three days later than previously planned due to weather delays that have delayed the return of another SpaceX Dragon crew capsule from the space station.
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