New Year, Same ol’ Rocket – SpaceX starts 2021 with Turksat 5A mission

9:15 PM EST atop a Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-40 at Canaveral Space Force Station

Photo by: Kyle Montgomery – NHS

Just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean the launch provider had to start with a new first stage. Booster 1060 has flown three previous missions, the first back in June of 2020, that of GPS III SV03. A little less than three months later, on September 3rd it flew for Starlink’s eleventh launch. Starlink fourteen was it’s most previous launch, having came just two months and fifteen days before tonight. Tonight’s start of a hopefully packed full of rocket launches year, went off flawlessly, unless you bring up the forty five minute delay due to a cargo ship passing through the flight path. Regardless SpaceX is the first to send a payload to orbit this year. With it’s more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust, all nine Merlin 1D engines helped send the 7,700lbs satellite through the skies and into space. The spacecraft is designed to live for approximately fifteen years, bringing broadband coverage to Turkey, the Middle East, Europe, and parts of Africa.

Phot by: Derek Wise – NHS

The satellite, Turksat 5A was built by Airbus out of Toulouse France, and is designed to provide data relays and TV broadcasting by commercial customers along with the Turkish government. In October of 2020 mass protesting took place outside of SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne California in anger of the company launching this payload. The Turksat 4B satellite, the earlier generation directly commanded hundreds of Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S bombing drones in Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria, Libya and other countries, resulting in thousands of deaths. Turksat 5A will beam down broadband coverage from it’s lofty seat more than 22,000 miles above Earth thanks to it’s 42 ku-band transponders. Though second stage deployed Turksat around thirty minutes after liftoff, the satellite will take nearly four months to reach that final altitude, and will make the journey using it’s plasma thrusters which use electrical energy from the satellites solar panels rather that using additional fuel. The thrusters are energy efficient but less powerful, making the time longer to reach it’s extended orbit.

“We are very pleased to welcome Turksat as a new Eurostar customer for the most powerful satellites of their fleet. We were the first to demonstrate full electric propulsion technology for satellites of this size and capacity, and this will enable the Turksat spacecraft to be launched in the most cost-efficient manner,” Nicolas Chamussy, head of space systems at Airbus, said in a company statement.

Photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

Around eight and a half minutes after liftoff booster 1060 was landed successfully onboard the automated drone ship “Just Read The Instructions”. One of two drone ships used currently in the SpaceX fleet to catch first stage boosters off the Atlantic coast. This marks the 71st overall drone ship landing for the company and the 21st in a row. This also marks a historic 50th re-flight of a Falcon 9 first stage rocket since SpaceX successfully landed it’s first back in 2015. In a semi rare event for the launch provider, SpaceX skipped the static fire all together for this mission. A static fire being when the rocket is brought into start up for a matter of seconds to ensure all engines and components are operating normal. It is rare, but not unheard of as the last launch took place without a static fire taking place as well.

Later this year the company is also contracted to launch Turksat 5B. A satellite that’s a bit heavier than 5A, weighing in at more than 9,000lbs, and capable of operating in both Ku as well as Ka bands, providing more than 50 gigabits per second. If things keep on track accordingly there is a possibility that the same first stage booster may even launch 5B as SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk has stated he wishes for each booster to be capable of launching ten times before major refurbishment. As of yet we have only seen two boosters launch a total of seven times, still short of the ten flights he is hoping for, but we may see that tenth flight from a booster by the end of this year.