Featured Image Source: SpaceX
Over the weekend, SpaceX made history when it successfully launched NASA Astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time. The aerospace company will soon launch astronauts more frequently after demonstrating its Dragon spacecraft is capable of safely transporting humans. In just four days after the historic mission, SpaceX teams are ready to deploy another cluster of 60 internet-beaming Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. The mission is scheduled for June 3rd. A Falcon 9 rocket is awaiting at Launch Pad 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will lift off on Wednesday at around 9:25 p.m. EDT. The United States Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron announced today there is a 70% chance of favorable weather conditions to launch on Wednesday night. The forecast details weather concerns – “By late Wednesday, a mid-level disturbance from the Gulf of Mexico will begin to approach the area, steadily increasing moisture and cloud cover heading into the nighttime hours,” the 45th Weather Squadron stated. “Models have trended slightly faster with the returning moisture over the last several days, but some dry air is still expected to linger in the mid-levels. […] The main concerns will be the thick cloud layer rule due to upper-level clouds streaming in from the west, and the cumulus cloud rule due to the potential for isolated showers.”
Starlink will be a constellation of over 12,000 internet-beaming satellites. Right now, there is a total of 420 satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of approximately 550-kilometers. This week’s launch will deploy 60 additional Starlink satellites, to bring the total to 480. This is the eight Starlink mission. SpaceX aims to offer Starlink broadband worldwide, targeting rural areas where the internet is too expensive, unreliable, and nonexistent. Customers will receive a connection from a small user terminal that looks like a “UFO on a stick,” according to SpaceX officials. The Federal Communications Commission already approved the operation of one million user terminals in the United States. SpaceX aims to roll out service in northern parts of the United States by year-end.
The Falcon 9 that will perform the Starlink mission already underwent a static-firing of its nine Merlin 1D engines on May 13, at LaunchPad 40. The rocket previously conducted four missions and is expected to be recovered a fifth time. “The first stage rocket booster supporting this mission previously launched two Starlink missions, as well as the Iridium-8 and Telstar 18 VANTAGE missions,” SpaceX shared. The company recovers the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster by performing vertical landings on autonomous drone ships at sea. The autonomous drone ship called “Just the Read Instructions has departed Port Canaveral, Florida, to support the booster landing. If the booster lands successfully nine minutes after Wednesday night’s liftoff, it will mark the first time SpaceX has recovers a Falcon 9 booster for a fifth time.
The first stage rocket booster supporting this mission previously launched two Starlink missions, as well as the Iridium-8 and Telstar 18 VANTAGE missions pic.twitter.com/rvQ6Mh4ZxZ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 13, 2020
During this Starlink mission, SpaceX will deploy an experimental ‘VisorSat’ which is a satellite that will feature a sunshade visor. This is to address astronomers concerns over the constellation being “too bright” in the night sky. Engineers will test if the VisorSat can block sunlight from reaching the shiniest parts of the flat-panel spacecraft to make them less reflective and visible from the ground. If the VisorSat feature works well, SpaceX will deploy an entire fleet of satellites with visors. Read more about VisorSat: SpaceX releases details of how it aims to reduce Starlink satellites' brightness