Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is building a constellation of internet beaming satellites. The sixth mission Starlink-6, will deploy a cluster of 60 satellites on Sunday March 15. A previously flown Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to liftoff a fifth time at 9:22 a.m. EDT. from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The United States Air Force 45th Weather Squadron is forecasting 90 percent chance of good weather upon liftoff, 70 degrees Fahrenheit temperature with a few scattered clouds.
The 60 desk-sized satellites atop the rocket's fairing will be deployed into low Earth orbit about 15 minutes after liftoff. Satellites will be deployed into an elliptical orbit of approximately 212 - 386 kilometers. Once in orbit, each satellite 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. Orbital rings are like imaginary roads around our planet where spacecraft is allowed to move in traffic.
According to SpaceX officials, the initial Phase 1 of the Starlink constellation will be composed of about 1,500 satellites orbiting 550 kilometers above Earth; On orbital rings inclined 53 degrees to the equator. There are currently a total of 300 internet-beaming Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit, out of the 12,000 that will make up the Starlink internet network. Read: SpaceX's Starlink broadband internet network will benefit rural areas.
Sunday's Starlink-6 mission will mark SpaceX’s first mission to fly a Falcon first stage for a fifth time, and the second to launch with a reused payload fairing. Reusing a Falcon 9's first-stage booster a fifth time is a very important milestone -yet to be achieved this weekend!
Falcon 9’s first stage supporting this mission has flown to orbit four times pic.twitter.com/bICKcH9h7y— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 13, 2020
SpaceX prepared the pre-flown Falcon 9 booster B1048.5, that's a production number which represents: "B1" means first-stage booster, "048" means its the 48th booster made and ".5" means that the company is prepared to reuse it on a 5th flight. On Friday, engineers completed a static-firing to ensure all nine Merlin 1D engines are working optimally before launch. During the routine test, teams filled out B1048.5 with sub-cooled liquid oxygen and kerosene propellant. Then, they briefly ignited the rocket’s nine engines while it was kept on the launch pad by hold-down clamps. The engines roared for several seconds as engineers assed the data. After the static-fire test was completed, teams drained propellants from the Falcon 9 to refuel for the Starlink-6 mission.
Falcon 9 B1048, previously launched four times, in July and October 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, then twice from Cape Canaveral in February and November 2019. After each mission, SpaceX recovered the booster by performing a controlled landing on autonomous drone ships at sea and on a landing pad. Falcon 9 rockets are among the most technologically advanced in history, its capable of using the power of their own engines to land vertically.
SpaceX will attempt to recover the rocket a 5th time Sunday morning. Around 8 minutes after liftoff, B1048.5 is expected to land on the Of Course I Still Love You autonomous drone ship at sea. If landing is successful it will become SpaceX's 51st landing! And B1048 would refly again on a future mission. The company's goal is to reuse a Falcon 9 first-stage 10 times. Its exciting to watch rocket landings, you can watch the launch live tomorrow morning in the video linked below!
WATCH IT LIVE!
During the upcoming Starlink-6 mission, SpaceX will also attempt to reuse a payload fairing, which carries the 60 satellites atop the Falcon 9 rocket. The fairing flew on a previous Starlink mission that took place in May 2019. Reusability reduces launch costs. As the rocket deploys the satellites, the fairing separates in two halves, it uses cold gas thrusters to guide its descent from space back to Earth, then it opens a parachute to soft land at sea. Two ships called "Ms. Tree" and "Ms. Chief" are used to recover the fairing halves. Each ship is equipped with four arms holding a large net to catch the fairing as it descends from space. Let's see if they catch it! Good luck to SpaceX!