Image Source: NASA and SpaceX
This year will be very active for SpaceX. From deploying their Starlink mega-constellation to launching the FIRST manned mission aboard their Crew Dragon spacecraft. The aerospace company will have a record breaking rocket launch manifest. They are scheduled to conduct over 30 launches, last year they only conducted 13. The most launches SpaceX has preformed in one year are 21. Besides scheduled contracts to deploy cargo for various companies, the increase is mostly due to Starlink satellite deployments scheduled for approximately every 2 weeks. Which could add up to a total of 24 Falcon 9 rocket launches solely dedicated to building the Starlink constellation.
A busy schedule begins this weekend, they will conduct an In-Flight Abort (IFA) test - the final major test needed to ensure Crew Dragon spacecraft can safely launch astronauts aboard. Then one day later, SpaceX could launch another batch of 60 starlink satellites. Lets dive into what is planned!
CREW DRAGON IN-FLIGHT ABORT TEST
Launch Date: Saturday. January 18, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. EST. (4-hour launch window)
Location: NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
The In-Flight Abort (IFA) test, is the final most important test that aims to show how Crew Dragon's launch escape system works. SpaceX will demonstrate to NASA that the spacecraft's technology can be capable of taking astronauts away from danger if a rocket malfunctions mid-flight. The test will take place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The upgraded Crew Dragon spacecraft atop of a Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off from pad 39A, without astronauts on-board, during a 4 hour launch window beginning at 8:00 a.m. EST on Saturday. About 90 seconds after liftoff, the Falcon 9's nine Merlin 1D engines will be programmed to switch off, and Crew Dragon's eight SuperDraco thrusters, which are facing the rocket, will ignite to propel away from the Falcon 9 while 'In-Flight.' This will cause Falcon 9 to explode and it is how Dragon will escape from danger.
During the unmanned In-Flight Abort test, everything will mimic how a real voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) would be like -except that they will purposely cause an explosion to see if Crew Dragon's launch escape system passes the safety test. Following Crew Dragon’s separation from the Falcon 9, the rocket's "expected breakup time will vary based upon a number of factors, including day of launch winds and expected minor variations in vehicle attitudes and positions, but could occur shortly after separation or later upon reentry from the upper atmosphere," NASA explained. Falcon 9 debris will be cleaned from the ocean immediately after breakup, by SpaceX recovery teams working in coordination with U.S Air Force Detachment-3 personnel.
Crew Dragon will deploy its parachutes to splashdown into the Atlantic Ocean. The "spacecraft will passively coast to apogee, the highest point in its arc. Near apogee, Crew Dragon’s trunk will separate and the smaller Draco thrusters will re-orient the spacecraft for reentry and parachute deploy." To meet NASA’s Commercial Crew Program safety requirements SpaceX's Dragon launch escape system should prove it works and that it is safe during the In-Flight Abort Test mission.
SpaceX and NASA aim to launch astronauts for the first time to the space station soon, after Dragon passes this safety mission!
Target Launch Date: Monday. January 20, 2020 at 12:20 p.m. EST.
Location: U.S Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Time and date are subject to change.)
SpaceX is building a broadband internet network that will beam signal from space down to Earth at the speed of light. Currently, there's a total of 180 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit, out of the 12,000 that they plan to deploy. The first batch of 60 Starlink satellites was launched in May 2019, the second batch of 60 in November 2019, the third batch of 60 satellites was successfully deployed on January 6 last week. It transformed SpaceX into the company with the world's largest constellation in low Earth orbit. They are scheduled to launch the fourth batch of 60 satellites soon, by Monday January 20. Just a day after their In-Flight Crew Dragon mission. The Starlink mission to deploy 60 more satellites will launch from Cape Canaveral's Air Force Station in Florida.
The President of SpaceX said as many as 24 Starlink rocket launches are planned this year, "We need 360 to 400 to have a constant connectivity where the satellites can end up through the ground talking to each other. Once we get to 1,200 satellites, we will have coverage of the whole globe."
After 12 launches of 60 satellites each, the company expects to have coverage of Northern United States and Canada. Global coverage will begin after 24 rocket launches. SpaceX could start offering Starlink internet connection as soon as the end of this year.