On September 10, SpaceX launched a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket a record-breaking 14th time to deploy a Starlink fleet and AST SpaceMobile's BlueWalker 3 cellular broadband network satellite. "One of our most complex missions," said SpaceX founder Elon Musk before liftoff. The mission is the most complex launches to date because it consisted of deploying 34 Starlink satellites and the BlueWalker into two different orbits that required the Falcon 9’s upper-stage to fire its Merlin 1D engine 5 times to deploy the satellites into designated orbits and complete the mission. The rocket has two stages; the first-stage booster lifted off at at 9:20 p.m. ET on Saturday from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "This was the 14th launch and landing of this Falcon 9 first stage booster, which previously launched Crew Demo-2, ANASIS-II, CRS-21, Transporter-1, Transporter-3, and now nine Starlink missions," said SpaceX.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/TM8bDycT2U— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 11, 2022
After propelling the upper-stage to orbit, the flight-proven booster, identified as B1058-14, returned around 8 minutes after liftoff. It landed on the 'A Shortfall of Gravitas' autonomous droneship which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. It marked the 14th landing for B1058-14 and SpaceX's 141st landing of an orbital-class rocket. It is the first time SpaceX reuses a booster 14 times. Reusability enables the company to reduce the cost of spaceflight which results in more frequent launches.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship – completing SpaceX’s first 14th flight of a first stage booster pic.twitter.com/F6Stba4bU3— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 11, 2022
Falcon 9’s upper-stage continued its journey to reach the two distinct orbits. It took four burns to deploy AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite and the 34 Starlink payloads, then a final burn to send the upper stage back into Earth’s atmosphere so it could burn upon re-entry and minimize the potential creation of space debris. The 34 Starlink satellites that were launched to Low Earth Orbit belong to Starlink Group 4-2, which is the 26th launch of satellites into orbital Shell 4 and the 59th operational Starlink mission. To date, SpaceX has launched 3,293 Starlink satellites.
AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 is equipped with the largest-ever commercial communications array that measures 693 square feet and weighs a 3,300 pounds. “We're building the first & only cellular broadband network in space backed by 2,400 patent and patent-pending claims [...]," said AST SpaceMobile’s Chairman and CEO Abel Avellan. The company shared a photo of the gigantic satellite, linked below. The large array antenna is designed to connect mobile phones from a much longer distance than traditional cell towers. The company conducted over 800 tests on the satellite to assess its performance and has permission from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to beam data from BlueWalker 3 to Texas and Hawaii.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX