Image Source: SpaceX
Tonight, SpaceX will light up the sky with the ignition of a Falcon 9 rocket flying from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, during their first rocket launch of 2020. A previously used Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Pad 40 at 9:20 p.m. EST. SpaceX will deploy 60 small Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. Starlink is part of SpaceX's plan to fund their dream of colonizing Mars by offering internet services. The satellites will use the most advanced technology to beam low-latency, high-speed broadband internet connection from space at the speed of light. Starlink technology was tested by the United States Air Force, it demonstrated internet speeds of 610 megabits per-second, equivalent to a gigabyte every ~13 seconds! Internet broadband services could be offered in some parts of the Unites States by the middle of this year, after 12 Starlink missions. Global internet coverage will come after 24 launches.
The Falcon 9 rocket booster that will be utilized for this Starlink-2 mission previously launched three missions, these include:
•The Telstar 18 VANTAGE mission - September 2018.
•The Iridium-8 mission - January 2019.
•A previous Starlink mission that took place in - May 2019.
Falcon 9's first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship – the third launch and landing of a booster that’s flown for a third time! pic.twitter.com/CzEDao3tFa— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 24, 2019
The same Falcon 9 first-stage booster will be reused a fourth time during tonight's launch. One of SpaceX's goals is to design a rocket that can one day be as reusable as airplanes and cars. The company is actively working on developing a system to recover and reuse rocket parts. Reusability reduces the cost of spaceflight. They aim to reuse the same Falcon 9 rocket's first stage up to 10 times. The most a same rocket booster has been used is 4 times, which is a huge accomplishment in the aerospace industry.
After launching the Starlink satellite's into orbit, the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage will return from space to land vertically on the Of Course I Still Love You autonomous droneship located in the Atlantic Ocean. This is how SpaceX has been recovering rocket boosters to reuse them again.
At 61 minutes into the mission, the Starlink satellites will deploy themselves into an altitude of 290 kilometers by using their integrated krypton powered ion thrusters.
SpaceX will also attempt to recover the Falcon 9's payload fairing -which is the top section that holds the cargo. The fairing will be recovered by using a ship named, "Ms. Tree." This ship has four arms holding a large net to catch the fairing as it lands from space. The rocket's fairing halves are equipped with small thrusters and a large parachute to soft land into the ocean. Salty ocean water can be very corrosive, so that's why SpaceX wants to attempt to catch it with a boat to keep it dry. By recovering and reusing a rocket fairing, SpaceX could save about $6 million per mission, that is approximately 10% of the total cost of a launch.
"All systems and weather are go ahead of today’s launch of 60 Starlink satellites; webcast will begin at ~9:05 p.m. EST."
There are currently 120 small Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit. The third batch of 60 operational satellites will be deployed during tonight's Starlink-2 mission. If this launch is successful, SpaceX will become the company with the world's largest satellite constellation composed of 180 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit. SpaceX will surpass other companies' satellite constellations which include OneWeb and Planet Labs. SpaceX plans to deploy hundreds of satellites, they will conduct as many as 24 Starlink missions this year.
Astronomers said Starlink satellites are too bright, causing interference with their scientific observations, SpaceX is now working on making them less reflective.
SpaceX President said, "This next batch has one satellite that we’ve put a coating on the bottom. This is going to be an experiment … We’re going to do trial and error to figure out what’s the best way to get this done. But we are going to get it done."
Good luck to SpaceX during tonight's launch!