Early Sunday morning, SpaceX launched the twenty-second Starlink mission, it was the third satellite deployment this month. SpaceX is rapidly launching internet-beaming Starlink satellites to increase its broadband coverage per region. A veteran Falcon 9 rocket lifted off a ninth time, setting a new reusability record during the Starlink mission. The booster, identified as B1051-9, blasted off at 6:01 a.m. EDT from Launch Pad-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, igniting the predawn sky with its nine Merlin 1D engines as it propelled 60 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/V3vn9PolF0— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 14, 2021
The previously-flown Falcon 9 first-stage B1051-9 is the first booster in SpaceX’s reusable fleet to launch a record nine times. Approximately nine minutes after liftoff, the booster returned from space, it landed on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ droneship out in the Atlantic Ocean around 633-kilometers downrange Florida’s coast. The landing marked SpaceX’s 77 landing of an orbital-class rocket and the 57 time a booster has been reused. SpaceX is the only company in the world who has achieved this level of reusability. The nine-times-flown booster previously supported five other Starlink missions, the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission, RADARSAT Constellation Mission, and the SirusXM SXM-7 radio satellite deployment. Today’s record setting recovery enables SpaceX to reuse B1051-9 a tenth time as part of its reusability program which aims to reduce the cost of spaceflight. Ten reflights of a particular Falcon 9 rocket first-stage saves the company millions. Having reusable booster fleet also enables SpaceX to launch more often because the boosters’ need ‘little-to-no refurbishment’ between flights, manufacturing a new one takes more time. SpaceX officials state that Falcon 9 has potential to conduct over 100 reflights, however, engineers are focused on pushing its Falcon 9 fleet on 10 reflights each.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, completing the ninth flight of that booster— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 14, 2021
Around one hour after liftoff, Falcon 9’s second-stage released the 60 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit, increasing the satellite constellation size to 1,325 internet-beaming satellites. SpaceX already operates the largest broadband constellation in the world and plans to gradually launch up to 12,000 satellites to connect the entire globe to reliable internet service.
Deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/AMLK4R9dMn— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 14, 2021
Starlink currently provides beta service to a limited amount of users per region. The company aims to connect ‘most of Earth’ before 2021 comes to an end. SpaceX started to accept service preorders worldwide on a ‘first-come, first-serve’ basis via Starlink.com. “Starlink is now delivering initial beta service both domestically and internationally, and will continue expansion to near global coverage of the populated world in 2021,” the company states, “During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s [megabits per second] and latency from 20ms to 40ms [milliseconds] in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system.” In the weeks ahead, the 60 satellites deployed Sunday morning will unfurl their single solar panel and use their krypton-powered ion thrusters to raise into higher operational orbit. You can watch Sunday's Starlink mission in the video below.
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
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.