Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX plans to offer Starlink broadband internet service to fund its space program. Starlink will be a mega constellation of internet-beaming satellites. The company’s initial plan is to deploy 1,584 satellites into 72 orbits around Earth. Each orbit will have 22 satellites operating at an altitude of 550 kilometers. As of today, a total of 360 satellites make-up the constellation. The upcoming mission will deploy another cluster of 60 satellites into low Earth orbit. SpaceX rolled-out Falcon 9 rocket to launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, ahead of next Starlink mission. The mission was scheduled for April 16, but was delayed; It will now take place on April 23, next week. Liftoff time is set for 3:16 p.m. EDT.
SpaceX teams will conduct a static-fire test of the thrice-flown rocket booster, serial number B1051.3 – that's a production number which represents: "B1" means first-stage booster, "051" means its the 51st booster made and ".3" means that the company has reused the same booster three times. So, on its fourth flight during the Starlink mission next week its number will increase to “.4”. B1051 was flown during: Crew Dragon's first demonstration flight to the International Space Station in March 2019, then on RADARSAT mission in June 2019, and it recently conducted the Starlink-3 mission in January. SpaceX aims to reduce the cost of spaceflight by reusing Falcon 9's first-stage. It recovers rocket boosters by conducting controlled vertical landings. Today (April 16), engineers raised the Falcon 9 vertical, to complete a static-firing to ensure all nine Merlin 1D engines are working optimally before launch. During the test, teams will fill out B1051 with sub-cooled liquid oxygen and kerosene propellant. Then, engineers will briefly ignite Falcon 9’s nine engines while the rocket is grounded on the launch pad with hold-down clamps. All the nine engines are fired for a few seconds as SpaceX engineering teams overlook the vehicle and data, then the engines are turned off quickly as the static fire test is complete.
SpaceX's next Falcon 9 rocket was lifted vertical early today on pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for a test-firing of its first stage main engines.— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) April 16, 2020
Launch with the next batch of Starlink satellites is planned April 23. https://t.co/GNzYjMZFEG pic.twitter.com/KGS0yX3jp0
U.S Military’s 45th Space Wing, assists spaceflight missions at Cape Canaveral’s Air Force Base, will overlook SpaceX’s Starlink launch despite of the coronavirus pandemic and that they are taking countermeasures to reduce the risk of spreading the respiratory illness, known as COVID-19. The commander of the unit that oversees 45th Space Wing launch operations, Brig. General Doug Schiess, told reporters:
“In looking at this, we believe that we can continue to do the range operations to be able to support [SpaceX] without any harm to our personnel, or our ability to do … public safety and resource protection. […] From a mission standpoint … it keeps our folks trained and ready, and then it doesn’t have an impact on the launch manifest later in the year. If we’re not doing any launches, then obviously things would start to back up, and then it may affect a national security launch at a later time.”
Schiess says his personnel will practice physical distancing during operations and wear face masks. According to Spaceflight Now, around 200 individuals are needed to overlook a SpaceX launch, about 100 of those work from an operation center. “We’re taking some precautions, and we’ve split our crews up, and also ask them health questions before they’re allowed into the operations center,” Schiess said. “We’re not taking any risk to the individuals, and that’s why each mission is being looked at individually. If we felt like this was too risky to do, then we would push [the launch date].” Schiess also shared with reporters that if a member from a team contracts COVID-19 and there’s an internal disease outbreak, they have a separate team that would monitor near-future SpaceX missions. “When it comes to me to approve the date that is on the launch schedule, that’s when we do a little more [thinking] about what are we doing to mitigate the spread of the virus, and make sure that we’re safe,” he said.