Featured Image Source: SpaceX
UPDATE SpaceX Announced: "Standing down from tomorrow’s Starlink launch; team is taking a closer look at a second stage valve component. Now targeting Monday, February 17."
SpaceX is ready to deploy another batch of 60 operational Starlink satellites into orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. It will the fifth Starlink mission, dedicated to build the satellite constellation that will beam affordable, low latency, high-speed broadband internet across the globe. They have deployed a total of 230 satellites to low Earth orbit, out of the 1,584 satellites yet to be deployed. SpaceX has approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate as many as 12,000 satellites. This year, deployments are scheduled for approximately twice a month, each rocket launch deploys a batch of 60 satellites. Unlike previous missions, this time, SpaceX is now targeting a 386 by 212 kilometer orbit. In the following weeks, the satellites should begin moving to the 550 km operational altitude in three groups of 20, to separate themselves, with their integrated ion thrusters, into three orbital planes around Earth.
The rocket company announced they have completed a static-fire test which is an important pre-flight preparation done ahead of every rocket launch. Engineers check data again upon completion to make sure the craft is ready to fly on a mission. "Static fire of Falcon 9 complete ahead of launching 60 Starlink satellites," SpaceX said Friday. A static-fire test consists of a very brief ignition of Falcon 9's nine Merlin engines while the rocket is grounded on the launch pad. All the nine engines are fired for a few seconds as SpaceX engineering teams overlook the vehicle and data, the Merlin engines powered up to full throttle to produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust while the rocket was grounded with hold-down clamps to keep it on the launch pad, then the engines are turned off quickly as the static fire test is complete. "Due to poor weather in the recovery area tomorrow, now targeting launch on Sunday." SpaceX announced:
"Static fire of Falcon 9 complete ahead of launching 60 Starlink satellites—due to poor weather in the recovery area tomorrow, now targeting launch on Sunday, February 16 at 10:25 a.m. EST, 15:25 UTC"
The booster supporting this mission previously launched the CRS-17 mission in May 2019, the CRS-18 mission in July 2019, and the JCSAT-18/Kacific1 mission in December 2019 pic.twitter.com/WWLc1LPxJj— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 14, 2020
Sunday's liftoff time from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, is scheduled for 10:25 a.m. EST.
In order to reduce the cost of spaceflight, SpaceX recovers the Falcon 9 rocket's first-stage, by bringing it back from space to land vertically on autonomous droneships at sea in order to be reused again. Engineers designed the Falcon 9 Block 5 edition with reusability in mind, to fly up to 10 flights.
The Falcon 9 that will be re-utilized for this mission already launched 3 previous missions which include: Two commercial resupply flights to the International Space Station known as the CRS-17 mission in May 2019, and the CRS-18 mission in July 2019. Also, the JCSAT-18/Kacific1 mission in December 2019 which deployed an Asian-Pacific communications satellite.
During tomorrow's Starlink mission, they will try to recover the rocket's first stage a fourth time. So, the recovery area refers to the zone in the Atlantic Ocean where the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship will be situated for the rocket's first-stage to land on. Conditions at sea must be calm, in order for a successful recovery. The United States Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron is expecting 90% "go" conditions for liftoff.
If tomorrow's launch is successful, it will be the 50th time SpaceX recovers an orbital-class rocket booster! This is one of the company's greatest accomplishments, no one in the aerospace industry has achieved their level of rocket recovery plus reusability. The launch will also bring the Starlink constellation's size to 300 satellites in low-Earth orbit. According to SpaceX officials, they target to offer Starlink's service in some parts of the Northern United States and Canada before the end of this year, and aim to roll-out global coverage by 2021.