Featured Image Source: @GregScott_photo via Twitter
SpaceX will launch another batch of 60 internet-beaming Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit this week. The mission was previously scheduled for April 23rd, SpaceX announced today: “With a more favorable weather forecast for launch and landing, now targeting Wednesday, April 22 at 3:37 p.m. EDT for this week’s Falcon 9 Starlink mission.” A Falcon 9 rocket is set to liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
With a more favorable weather forecast for launch and landing, now targeting Wednesday, April 22 at 3:37 p.m. EDT for this week’s Falcon 9 Starlink mission— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 20, 2020
SpaceX aims to develop a spacecraft recovery system to reuse their rockets because a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the key to significantly reduce manufacturing and operational costs. The company recovers Falcon 9’s first-stage booster by conducting controlled vertical landings on an autonomous drone ship called Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY). During Wednesday’s Starlink mission, SpaceX will attempt to recover the thrice-flown Falcon 9 booster a fourth time. If successful, it will be the 51st recovery of an orbital-class rocket.
SpaceX Fleet Notice: OCISLY, being towed by Finn Falgout, pulled out of port this morning @ 8:30am in support of #SpaceX #Starlink 7th mission. OCISLY will be stationed about 639km out in the Atlantic for recovery attempt. Cruise ship for scale #NASA #Space pic.twitter.com/7WhyzDFTkH— Greg Scott (@GregScott_photo) April 19, 2020
This week, the drone ship arrived at Port Canaveral, it will be stationed about 639 kilometers out in the Atlantic Ocean to recover the Falcon 9 booster, production number B1051.4. B1051.4 was flown on three missions: Crew Dragon's first demonstration flight to the International Space Station in March 2019, then on the RADARSAT mission in June 2019, and the same booster also conducted the fourth Starlink mission in January. The booster is part of the Block 5 series, designed to help the company achieve reusability. Each booster is designed to fly up to ten times with little refurbishment in between flights.
SpaceX will also reuse a Falcon 9 payload fairing during the upcoming Starlink mission. The fairing was previously flown in August 2019, during the AMOS-17 mission. Reusing payload fairings saves the company up to $6 million per launch. SpaceX will attempt to recover the fairing halves as they fall from space with fairing recovery ships, which also arrived at Port Canaveral. The twin fairing recovery ships are called Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief. These are equipped with four ‘spider-like arms’ that have massive nets attached, to catch the fairing halves as they perform a parachute assisted landing (shown in the video below). Each fairing half is equipped with small steering thrusters to guide it. Saltwater is extremely corrosive, so keeping the fairing halves dry, rather than letting them splash down into the ocean is better to reuse. Both recovery ships will be situated about 770 kilometers away from the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The fairing recovery system is fairly new, it will be the first re-flight of a previously recovered (caught) fairing. SpaceX is continually pushing towards reusability.