SpaceX Launches 51 Starlink Satellites & the Spaceflight Inc. Sherpa-LTC vehicle

SpaceX Launches 51 Starlink Satellites & the Spaceflight Inc. Sherpa-LTC vehicle

On Sunday, September 4, SpaceX launched 51 Starlink satellites and Spaceflight Inc.'s Sherpa-LTC, an orbital transfer vehicle (OTV), atop a flight-proven Falcon 9. The rocket lifted off at 10:09 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It marked the 7th flight for the first-stage booster, identified as B1052-7, which previously launched Saudi Arabia's Arabsat-6A and the U.S. military Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) mission in 2019; Italy Space Agency’s COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation FM2 spacecraft and the South Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) mission earlier this year; and now three Starlink missions.

Approximately eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 first-stage booster landed for the 7th time, it touched down on the 'Just Read the Instructions' autonomous spaceport which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean around 656-kilometers (km) downrange. It is SpaceX's 140th landing of an orbital-class rocket and the 116th reflight of a booster. SpaceX plans to reuse each booster in its Falcon 9 fleet at least 10 times. The company is known to push the limits, multiple rockets have been reused 12 times. SpaceX founder Elon Musk says the Falcon 9 Block 5 first-stage booster is capable of flying 100 times with refurbishments between flights –this is a first in the history of rocketry!

The Starlink fleet of 51 satellites that were deployed this weekend belong to Group 4-20, which are the 25th launch of satellites into orbital Shell 4. SpaceX is arranging Phase 1 of the Starlink constellation into five orbital shells with different parameters, detailed in the table shown below. It is SpaceX's 58th operational Starlink mission that booster the total number of Starlink satellites launched to 3,259, of which around 2,999 remain in orbit, according to data by astronomer Jonathan McDowell. The Starlink Group 4-20 satellites were deployed after the ridesharing Sherpa-LTC OTV was released to Low Earth Orbit. 

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 dropped off Sherpa-LTC at an approximate 310-kilometer altitude above Earth. In the coming days, Sherpa-LTC will use its onboard high-thrust propulsion system to maneuver to its designated 1,000-kilometer circular orbit where it will be tested for 2 years. Sherpa-LTC carries Boeing’s Varuna Technology Demonstration Mission (Varuna-TDM) that aims to test V-band communications for a future constellation of 147 non-geostationary broadband satellites. Varuna is integrated on the Sherpa-LTC OTV. The ride to outer space was booked with Spaceflight Inc. by Astro Digital on behalf of Boeing. Astro Digital was contracted by Boeing to manufacture Varuna.

Featured Image Source: SpaceX 

About the Author

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

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.

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