Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX successfully test-fired a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket in Florida on Wednesday, in preparation to conduct its eighth Starlink mission scheduled for May 17th at 3:53 a.m. EDT. During the static-fire test, the Falcon 9 rocket was filled with sub-chilled propellant –kerosene and liquid oxygen. Then, engineers ignited its nine Merlin engines for a few seconds while grounded with clamps on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 40 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX announced:
"Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete — targeting Sunday, May 17 at 3:53 a.m. EDT, 7:53 UTC, for launch of the eighth Starlink mission, which will lift off from SLC-40 in Florida."
Static-fire tests are routine preparation done ahead of every flight to ensure the rocket is working at an optimal level. It also allows engineers to practice for countdown and data analysis for launch day.
SpaceX has been using previously flown Falcon 9 fist-stage boosters on all its Starlink-dedicated missions, to develop its reusability program and save on manufacturing costs. SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to develop a fully reusable rocket, Falcon 9 has the potential to be 80% reusable. The company is pushing to fly a particular booster 10 times. So far, it has only re-flown a first-stage booster 5 times. The Falcon 9 booster that will deploy Starlink this weekend, has flown 4 times before. It launched two previous Starlink missions, as well as the Iridium-8 mission in 2019, and Telstar 18 VANTAGE satellite in 2018. The next Starlink mission will be the booster’s 5th flight. SpaceX aims to recover it again, by landing it on an autonomous drone ship at sea. If it lands successfully, SpaceX will reach a new reusability milestone –the first time SpaceX has recovered a Falcon 9 first-stage booster for a 5th time.
The first stage rocket booster supporting this mission previously launched two Starlink missions, as well as the Iridium-8 and Telstar 18 VANTAGE missions pic.twitter.com/rvQ6Mh4ZxZ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 13, 2020
Starlink will be a constellation of over 12,000 internet-beaming satellites. This weekend’s mission will add 60 Starlink satellites to the collection of 420 that are already in low Earth orbit. SpaceX officials have stated at least 400 Starlink satellites would be required to roll out internet service, and reaching a total of 800 satellites would provide moderate internet coverage. Customers will receive service via a user terminal that looks like a “UFO on a stick” with a diameter of 19 inches. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the operation of 1 million user terminals for Starlink customers in the United States. SpaceX expects to initially offer broadband internet connection in northern parts of the country.
Astronomers voiced their concerns over Starlink fleets being too bright in the night sky. SpaceX will test-out a new darkening method by launching an experimental ‘VisorSat,’ which is a visor sunshade to reduce the satellites’ reflectivity to make them less bright from the ground. The company says it will change the orientation of the Starlink satellites and turn solar panels away from the sun as they rise into operational orbit to reduce visibility.