SpaceX conducted the eleventh Starlink mission today, August 18. A five-times-flown Falcon 9 lifted off at 10:31 a.m. EDT. for the sixth time carrying 58 SpaceX Starlink satellites, and a trio of SkySat satellites for the California-based imaging company, Planet Labs. The rocket propelled to orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/q6t6QXO5Cl— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 18, 2020
The Falcon 9 first-stage booster featured in today's flight, production number B1049, previously launched three separate Starlink flights, as well as the Telstar 18 VANTAGE and Iridium-8 missions. SpaceX reached a new reusability milestone; About nine minutes after liftoff, B1049 returned from space, it landed flawlessly onto the deck of SpaceX's Of Course I Still Love You drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean – marking its 6th flight – a first in rocket history! According to SpaceX officials, Falcon 9 first-stage is capable of flying 10 times with little refurbishment in between, and as many as 100 times before being retired. To date, SpaceX has flown one rocket 6 times and two others 5 times. Engineers aim to accomplish 10 re-flights, this morning’s successful landing enables the company to take the booster on a seventh flight.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship – first time a booster has completed six flights! pic.twitter.com/A8bbTinGOA— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 18, 2020
Reusing Falcon 9 boosters accounts for 60% of the rocket’s approximate $60 million price tag. To date, the company has recovered 58 orbital-class rocket boosters. To further reduce spaceflight costs, SpaceX has also started recovering and reusing its payload fairings. Around 40 minutes after liftoff today, the fairing halves fell from space; one conducted a parachute-assisted landing on a twin ship equipped with a giant net, called GO Ms. Tree. The other fairing clam-shell performed a soft landing in the ocean. The GO Ms. Chief ship will recover it. Recovering a fairing to reuse saves the company around $6 million.
Ms. Tree caught a Falcon 9 fairing half! pic.twitter.com/TFaJqIf1qT— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 18, 2020
The rocket’s second-stage successfully deployed Planet Labs trio of Skysats around 12 minutes after liftoff. SkySats are Earth-imaging satellites that take high-resolution photographs of Earth’s surface. The deployment will enable Planet to offer better quality images of Earth to compete in the national security market.
SpaceX’s 58 internet-beaming Starlink satellites deployed around 46 minutes after liftoff. The satellites will enable the company to offer affordable internet worldwide to fund missions to the moon and Mars. With today’s launch, SpaceX now operates around 648 Starlink satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Officials previously said they plan to roll out internet service in portions of Canada and Northern United States once 800 Starlink satellites are in orbit. The aerospace company already possesses the largest LEO broadband constellation in the world. The Starlink constellation will consist of 12,000 satellites. SpaceX’s primary focus is to provide connectivity to rural areas on Earth, where the internet is nonexistent, unreliable, or too expensive to set up. This mission comes as company employees are beta testing the Starlink network’s performance. Read more: Starlink Beta Testers Share Internet Speeds, SpaceX achieves latency below FCC's 100ms threshold.
In an effort to reduce the potential of the satellites appearing too bright in the night sky, SpaceX equipped all Starlink satellites on this mission with a deployable visor, that acts as a sunshade to cover the most reflective parts of the craft. It is the second fleet of Starlink satellites featuring a anti-reflective visor.
Deployment of 58 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/c8u2WqaD1J— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 18, 2020