WASHINGTON — SpaceX efficiently launched a Falcon 9 rocket Aug. 18 on a mission that reused the identical first-stage booster for a sixth time, setting a report for Falcon 9 booster reuse.
The Falcon 9 lifted off at 10:31 a.m. Japanese from Cape Canaveral Air Power Station in Florida, carrying 58 small broadband satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, and three SkySat optical imaging satellites for Planet.
Planet’s SkySats separated from the rocket about 13 minutes after liftoff, adopted by the Starlink satellites 46 minutes after liftoff. The primary-stage booster landed on the drone ship “Of Course I Nonetheless Love You,” within the Atlantic Ocean.
The launch marks the primary time SpaceX has flown the identical first-stage booster six occasions. The corporate first used this explicit first stage in September 2018 to launch the Telstar-18 Vantage satellite tv for pc to geostationary switch orbit. The booster flew once more in January 2019, carrying 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites to low Earth orbit, and later performed three separate Starlink launches, with the latest occurring in June 2020.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has described the present Falcon 9 first-stage booster as able to a minimum of 10 flights, with refurbishment probably extending the variety of flights to 100. The corporate builds a brand new higher stage for every launch.
SpaceX has examined the bounds of Falcon 9 reuse via Starlink missions, having launched its personal Starlink satellites on the first-ever fourth flight and fifth flight of a rocket booster. The corporate’s Aug. 18 launch additionally featured beforehand flown payload fairing halves which have since been recovered once more — one by the boat “Ms. Tree,” and the opposite by way of a tender water touchdown.
SpaceX has now launched 653 Starlink satellites, together with two prototypes. It isn’t clear, nevertheless, what number of Starlink satellites launched to date will present service when SpaceX begins providing web connections late this yr.
SpaceX informed the U.S. Federal Communications Fee June 23 that 9 Starlink satellites had “suffered diminished maneuvering functionality at an altitude above injection,” and that one other 5 had already been deorbited “both to check the de-orbit course of or as a result of the satellite tv for pc was not performing optimally.”
Musk additionally tweeted in April that the corporate was deorbiting its two TinTin prototype satellites.
SpaceX has submitted paperwork for a constellation of as much as 42,000 Starlink satellites, however has described the constellation as “economically viable” at round 1,000 satellites.
Whereas Starlink will want many extra satellites earlier than offering service, the launch accomplished Planet’s constellation of 21 SkySats.
The SkySat satellites present imagery at 50 centimeter decision, complementing Planet’s bigger fleet of Dove cubesats that present 3-5 meter decision imagery.
Mike Safyan, Planet vp of launch, stated SpaceX’s rideshare program was higher for Planet than counting on automobiles designed particularly for smallsats.
“[W]e have been in a position to get these satellites launched a lot quicker in comparison with a devoted launch,” he wrote in an Aug. 14 weblog put up.
Planet launched its final six SkySats in teams of three on Falcon 9 launches. Splitting the satellites into two teams helps velocity their service begin by shortening the time wanted for orbital airplane shifts with onboard propulsion, “all of which leads to Planet’s prospects benefiting from these enhanced merchandise a lot sooner,” Safyan stated.