Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX will launch another cluster of internet-beaming Starlink satellites. The mission is scheduled for Thursday, April 23. A Falcon 9 rocket is set to liftoff at 3:16 p.m. EDT. from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Today, April 17, engineers test-fired a thrice-flown Falcon 9 first-stage to ensure all nine Merlin 1D engines are working optimally before launch. During the test, Falcon 9’s nine engines were briefly ignited at 12:00 p.m. EDT. while the 229-foot-tall rocket was grounded on the launch pad with hold-down clamps. All the nine engines were fired for a few seconds, producing about 1.7 million pounds of thrust for several seconds. As SpaceX engineering teams overlook the vehicle and data, then the engines were shut down quickly as the static fire test is complete. SpaceX announced engineers completed a static fire test of a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster, serial number B1051.3.
“Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete—targeting Thursday, April 23 at 3:16 p.m. EDT, 19:16 UTC, for launch of 60 Starlink satellites from LC-39A in Florida.”
B1051.3 was flown during three missions: Crew Dragon's first demonstration flight to the International Space Station in March 2019, then on the RADARSAT mission in June 2019, and the same booster also conducted the fourth Starlink mission in January. The booster is part of the 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. So far, SpaceX has only reused a particular booster 5 times, but aim to eventually accomplish 10 reflights, to reduce the cost of spaceflight. They recover rocket boosters by conducting controlled vertical landings. SpaceX will also reuse a Falcon 9 fairing during the upcoming Starlink mission. The fairing was previously flown in August 2019, during the AMOS-17 mission. Reusing payload fairings significantly reduces operation and manufacturing costs, it could save the company up to $6 million per launch.
The fairing previously supported launch of the AMOS-17 mission in August 2019 pic.twitter.com/1qNaL0uPLh— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 17, 2020
Next week’s mission will add 60 Starlink satellites to the 360 that are already in low Earth orbit. After the mission, SpaceX will have 420 internet-beaming satellites in orbit –the world’s largest constellation. Starlink satellites are relatively small compared to other satellites in orbit, they are about the size of an office desk with a single solar array. Each satellite is equipped with Krypton powered ion thrusters to move into operational orbits of around 550-kilometers. The company’s initial plan, is to deploy about 1,500 satellites to roll out internet service in the United States, over 12,000 Starlink satellites will be needed to offer worldwide service. The company aims to offer internet services to rural areas on Earth where internet connection is too expensive, unreliable, or non-existent. Customers will access the internet through a round user terminal that looks like a “UFO on a stick,” according to SpaceX officials. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), approved the operation of 1 million Starlink user terminals.