Featured Image Source: @SpaceflightNow via Twitter.
SpaceX is in the process of building Starlink, a satellite constellation that will beam high-speed internet across the globe. The rocket company aims to offer broadband internet services to fund their space program, which includes building a massive Starship to enable life on Mars. SpaceX officials stated that the Starlink network will be affordable enough that rural areas where internet connectivity is unreliable or non-existent will benefit from their service.
The Starlink constellation currently has 300 satellites in low Earth orbit out of the 12,000 that will make-up the network. To establish minor internet coverage it will take approximately 400 satellites and over 800 satellites will be required for moderate coverage.
Image Source: SpaceX
The next Starlink-6 mission will take place over the weekend. Previously scheduled for March 14, now it is scheduled for Sunday, March 15 at 9:22 a.m. EST. A Falcon 9 rocket will carry another batch of 60 satellites from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The United States Air Force 45th Weather Squadron is forecasting good launch conditions for liftoff and landing. If deployment is successful, SpaceX will have 360 satellites in low Earth orbit - the largest satellite constellation in the world. About 15 minutes after liftoff, all 60 satellites will be deployed into an elliptical orbit of approximately 212 - 386 kilometers. Then after several weeks, all satellites in the Starlink-6 mission will use their krypton-powered ion thrusters to reach an operational altitude of about 550 kilometers, where each satellite will separate into groups of 20 to operate in 3 orbital rings around Earth.
The Starlink-6 mission was previously scheduled for March 14, now it is scheduled for Sunday, March 15 at 9:22 a.m. EST. Liftoff from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX rolled out a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket early today (March 13) to the launch pad ahead of Sunday's Starlink-6 mission. Engineers will conduct pre-flight preparations which include filling-up the rocket's engines with propellant and perform a static-fire test. A static-fire test is a routine preparation that consists of a brief ignition of Falcon 9's nine Merlin 1D engines to ensure the craft is working at optimal levels. SpaceX plans to recover the rocket booster by landing it on a droneship at sea, situated in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast. About, 10 minutes after liftoff the rocket's first-stage will return from space to land on the Of Course I Still Love You autonomous droneship. Recovering Falcon 9's first-stage is a huge innovation by SpaceX. Reusing a booster significantly reduces manufacturing and operational costs.
The Falcon 9's first-stage in the Block 5 edition, was manufactured with the capability of performing up to 10 flights. So far, the rocket company has only flown a particular rocket booster 4 times. The Falcon 9 B1048, that will be reused for the Starlink-6 mission previously conducted the following missions:
July 25, 2018 Iridium NEXT-7
October 8, 2018 SAOCOM-1A
February 22, 2019 Nusantara Satu
November 11, 2019 Starlink V1.0-L1
The upcoming launch is important because it will be the first time that SpaceX will reuse the same Falcon 9's first-stage (production number B1048.5) a fifth time, a first in the history of rocketry!