Featured Image Source: Stephen Clark/@SpaceflightNow via Twitter.
SpaceX is conducting pre-flight preparations ahead of their next launch that aims to deploy the fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It is all part of SpaceX's plan to fund their space program by offering broadband satellite internet connection services. The company says Starlink's internet connection will be affordable and benefit areas on Earth where internet connection is non-existent, unreliable, or too expensive. The 60 Starlink satellites scheduled to launch this week will join the other 180 that are already in orbit. SpaceX became the company with the world's largest satellite constellation in LEO.
Read more: SpaceX Starlink just became the world's largest broadband internet satellite constellation.
Yesterday, January 20, engineers conducted a static-fire test on the previously used Falcon 9 rocket that will be reused for this Starlink mission. This rocket booster's first-stage is known as B1051.3 (identifier number) and has flown twice before, on Crew Dragon's first voyage to the International Space Station, Demo-1. The rocket also launched some Earth imaging satellites. Now the same rocket will fly a third mission.
During the static-fire test at Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 40, SpaceX teams loaded the rocket with super-chilled propellants, kerosene and liquid oxygen. A static-fire test involves a very short ignition of Falcon 9's Merlin 1D engines (video above). The nine engines briefly fired at 2:00 p.m. EST, generating over 1 million pounds of thrust while the rocket was grounded with clamps on the launch pad. The static-fire lasted for about 5 seconds, then engines were shutdown. This test is part of every rocket pre-flight preparation. It is important to run this test ahead of liftoff because this is how engineers make sure that all systems are working properly. SpaceX announced:
"Static fire of Falcon 9 complete ahead of launching 60 Starlink satellites. Due to extreme weather in the recovery area, team is evaluating best launch opportunity."
Static fire of Falcon 9 complete ahead of launching 60 Starlink satellites. Due to extreme weather in the recovery area, team is evaluating best launch opportunity— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 20, 2020
SpaceX stated that the static fire test was successful, the launch is planned for no earlier than Friday at 10:54 a.m. EST. from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The date could change due to extreme weather conditions at sea, where the company set up an autonomous droneship landing pad to recover the Falcon 9 rocket booster, in order to reuse it again. By reusing a rocket's first stage they save a lot of money, the goal is to make spaceflight as cheap and reliable as using cars or travelling via airplanes. The upgraded Falcon 9 Block 5 generation of rockets can be used up to 10 times, so making sure weather conditions are stable for recovery is important.
The United States Air Force's 45th Space Wing weather squadron issued a weather forecast this morning where it says there is an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions for a launch on Friday. The main concern this week is strong upper level winds. These strong winds near the launch pad in Cape Canaveral are associated with a wind storm northeast of the Bahamas. The weather team wrote:
"Winds will become southeasterly ahead of the next frontal system that will move into the Florida Panhandle on Friday. On-shore moving cumulus clouds and the potential for brief coastal showers will be the main concern during the launch window on Friday. Maximum upper-level winds will be from the southwest at 110 knots near 39,000 feet."
Weather conditions are expected to improve by Thursday and Friday. Although by Saturday, weather conditions are expected to worsen with only a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions. It is probable that they will conduct the mission before then - on Friday.