Featured Image Source: SpaceX
Early today, August 7, SpaceX successfully conducted its tenth Starlink mission. A Falcon 9 deployed 57 Starlink satellites, along with two BlackSky Earth-observation satellites. The rocket lifted off at 1:12 a.m. EDT. from historic Launch Pad 39A t NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Nighttime launches are stunning to watch. Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D engines can produce over 1.7 million pounds of thrust, leaving a brilliant streak of fire across the dark sky and a track of smoke as it leaves Earth’s atmosphere. This Starlink mission is special because all 57 Starlink satellites are equipped with a deployable sun visor. “All Starlink satellites on this flight are equipped with a deployable visor to block sunlight from hitting the brightest spots of the spacecraft – a measure SpaceX has taken as part of our work with leading astronomical groups to mitigate satellite reflectivity,” the company wrote in a press release.
The mission finally comes after a six-week delay, the launch had been rescheduled over five times. During the live broadcast, the Principal Integration Engineer at SpaceX John Insprucker said the delays were not caused by rocket issues – “Through all of this, Falcon 9 has been trouble-free, as the delays have been weather-related and payload-related,” he said.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/puG31v239X— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 7, 2020
It was the fifth launch for this particular Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster. About eight and a half minutes after liftoff, the booster returned from space, flawlessly landing a fifth time onto the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ autonomous droneship situated in the Atlantic Ocean about 628-kilometers downrange Florida’s coast. The booster previously conducted the Demo-1 mission in 2019, which sent an uncrewed Crew Dragon to the International Space Station; a trio of Earth-observing satellites for Canada; and two Starlink missions this year. It is the third SpaceX booster to launch 5 times, and the second to launch and land successfully 5 times.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship pic.twitter.com/szO3thMxqa— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 7, 2020
To date, SpaceX has recovered 58 orbital-class Falcon 9 boosters as part of its reusability program. Reusing rockets significantly reduces the cost of spaceflight. SpaceX is the only aerospace company in the world with a high landing and reusability success rate. The boosters are transported back to SpaceX facilities, where they're carefully inspected and refurbished to take flight again. The company says that each Falcon 9 first-stage in the Block 5 series can launch as many as 10 times with minor refurbishments in between, and 100 times before retirement. As of today, boosters have only launched and landed a maximum of five times; Engineers aim to conduct 10 re-flights.
Deployment of 57 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/myKxr3QSTu— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 7, 2020
Inside the Falcon 9's payload fairing were the 57 internet-beaming Starlink satellites and the hitchhiking BlackSky satellite duo. Starlink deployed into Low Earth Orbit about 1 hour and 33 minutes after liftoff. The satellites will be part of a constellation of 12,000 satellites that will make up SpaceX’s Starlink broadband internet network. The company currently has 595 Starlink satellites in orbit. SpaceX officials say the network needs at least 800 satellites to offer ‘moderate’ internet coverage.
Today’s successful mission comes as SpaceX initiates its private Starlink Beta Test program. Employees, friends, and family are currently testing the Starlink network that will one day provide coverage on a global scale. Customers will receive internet connection via ‘UFO’ dish terminals that will be capable of reorienting itself to get signal from the Starlink satellites in orbit. SpaceX will initially offer Starlink to northern portions of the United States and Canada before this year ends.