Amid COVID-19 Fears, SpaceX Still Shoots for the Stars

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – SpaceX continued building the Starlink network today with another batch of 60 Starlink communications satellites, bringing the number in the constellation to 360 satellite. Viewer who made the trek to the Cape were treated to wonderful views of the Falcon 9 rocket poised on the pad breaking through the early morning ground fog as the sun rose.

B1048 and Starlink await launch. (Image credit: Next Horizons Spaceflight/Steven Keagle)

The booster launched successfully at 8:16 AM EDT. It followed a nominal flight profile throughout launch. After the reentry burn, the SpaceX feed cut away from the first stage and later SpaceX confirmed that the booster was lost in the ocean (RIP B1048). This is SpaceX’s 6th launch of the year. SpaceX will attempt to catch the fairings using Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief.

For this Falcon 9, this was the fifth flight. Booster B1048 first entered service in 2018 with the Iridium-7 NEXT flight. It continued service with SAOCOM 1A, Nusantara Satu, and Starlink Flight 1 (first mission with Starlink v1.0 satellites). This particular booster would have been a museum piece in the future, as it had been used to break three reusability records: first booster to be reused three times, four times, and five times. The Block 5 configuration, the final Falcon 9 iteration, is designed to be reused up to 10 times.

While the booster was a hard and steady spaceflight veteran, it was not the only proven piece of hardware on this mission. The fairings are also being reused, having flown on a previous Starlink mission. This makes the only new piece of hardware on this booster the second stage, which is used to push the payload to an approximate final orbit before releasing it and deorbiting over time, typically in the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia.

This flight comes in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, which has threatened to cripple spaceflight and has already claimed the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin launch as its first space victim. NASA has moved several facilities to telework after workers at Ames in Silicon Valley and Marshall in Alabama tested positive for COVID-19. The effects of these fears could be heard on the launch webcast, as the normally boisterous crowd was non-existent.

Here is a gallery of today’s launch photos!