Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX aims to fund voyages to the moon and Mars by offering Starlink internet services. The rocket company is dedicated to building a satellite constellation that will beam low latency, high-speed broadband internet across the globe. The founder of SpaceX Elon Musk, said that the Starlink network will be affordable, likely serve the "3 or 4 percent hardest to reach customers" for telecommunication companies, the "people who simply have no connectivity right now, or the connectivity is really bad." Starlink will debut its service sometime before the end of this year in some parts of Northern United States and Canada. Phase 1 of the Starlink network consists of deploying 1,584 satellites into 72 orbits with 22 satellites per orbital ring into an altitude of 550 kilometers above Earth. The complete Starlink constellation will have over 12,000 satellites, potentially even 42,000, satellites to achieve worldwide internet coverage. So far, SpaceX has deployed a total of 360 satellites into low Earth orbit.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/eToRAbYW1q— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 18, 2020
Today in the morning (March 18), the rocket company successfully launched 60 satellites during its sixth Starlink mission. The satellites rode atop a previously flown fairing and reusable first-stage booster, serial number B1048.5, which previously took flight on 4 different missions. Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 8:16 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/GZq8sUQ2TP— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 18, 2020
About 15 minutes later, it deployed 60 desk-sized satellites into a 221-kilometer low Earth orbit. Engineers will test-out the satellites signal then the 60 satellites will raise into an operational orbit of 550 kilometers by using integrated propulsion -ion thrusters. Today's mission, marked the first time SpaceX reused a booster 5 times. After the launch, Musk exclaimed via Twitter:
"Yeah, most reflights ever!"
SpaceX used the same booster to launch Iridium Next satellites in July 2018, Argentina’s Saocom-1A satellite in October 2018, the Indonesian Nusantara Satu satellite in February 2019, and the second dedicated Starlink mission in November 2019. The Falcon 9 rocket that flew today is part of an upgraded Block 5 series, designed to help the company achieve reusability. Each booster is designed to fly up to 10 times with little refurbishment in between flights. SpaceX aims to eventually accomplish 10 reflights. During today's Starlink mission, they failed to recover the booster again. The company recovers Falcon 9's first-stage by performing a controlled landing into autonomous droneships at sea in order to reuse it again. B1048.5 failed to land on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, located in the Atlantic Ocean. During the live broadcast of the launch, SpaceX manufacturing engineer Jessica Anderson said:
"Our first stage successfully separated from the second stage, but unfortunately we did get confirmation that we were not able to land that first stage today."
According to Musk, the failed landing occurred due to one of the nine Merlin 1D engines on the rocket’s first-stage shutting-down prematurely during ascent from space, he shared:
"Yeah. There was also an early engine shutdown on ascent, but it didn’t affect orbit insertion. Shows value of having 9 engines! Thorough investigation needed before next mission."
B1048.5 actually had engine issues before the mission, which was previously scheduled for March 15. On Sunday, SpaceX attempted to conduct the mission and the rocket's computerized system detected an anomaly, "out of family data" causing a mission abort seconds before liftoff. It is unclear if it was a similar issue that caused the booster's engine to fail landing. Regarding this, Musk stated via twitter:
"Last launch aborted due to slightly high power. Possibly, but not obviously, related to today. This vehicle has seen a lot of wear, so today isn’t a big surprise. Life leader rockets are used only for internal missions. Won’t risk non-SpaceX satellites."
Last launch aborted due to slightly high power. Possibly, but not obviously, related to today. This vehicle has seen a lot of wear, so today isn’t a big surprise. Life leader rockets are used only for internal missions. Won’t risk non-SpaceX satellites.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 18, 2020
So, engineers plan to try to accomplish reusing a booster 10 times exclusively with Starlink missions due to the fact that reusing rockets is still fairly new.
In total, SpaceX has successfully landed 50 orbital-class rockets, missing a landing and having engine issues is a rare occurrence.
Today's launch also reused a payload fairing from a previous Starlink mission that took place in May 2019.
Today’s Falcon 9 launch was the second time SpaceX has re-flown a full payload fairing. After landing in the water, both fairing halves were quickly recovered. pic.twitter.com/JF9y7yrkxp— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 18, 2020
The fairing halves failed to land on recovery ships called Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief, which are equipped with nets to catch the fairing halves upon descent from space. This is experimental, it is how SpaceX aims to reduce the cost of spaceflight by developing a rocket recovery system. The company announced via twitter: "Today’s Falcon 9 launch was the second time SpaceX has re-flown a full payload fairing. After landing in the water, both fairing halves were quickly recovered."
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.