Starlink L18 Sets Newest SpaceX Record

February 4th 2021, 1:19AM Est atop a Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-40

Long exposure of Starlink L18 from New Smyrna Beach. Photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

February 4th was shaping up to be a truly historic night with SpaceX getting range approval to launch two rockets just under five hours apart from Cape Canaveral. This would have been the first double launch day since the 1960’s and the very first time for SpaceX. This would also mean that we could possible see two boosters coming into Port Canaveral on the same day, assuming they both are successful at landing on their assigned drone ships. This was not to be however as the company tweeted out on Feb. 3rd that they were allowing more time to check out the rocket sitting on pad 39A. That being booster 1049 waiting for it be the second first stage booster to make eight flights.

View from the Press site. Photo by: Derek Wise – NHS

What we did get in middle of a freezing cold night, was a new record for the fastest turn around time between flights of the same booster. The weather which hovered around forty degrees, which is fairly rare on the space coast lead to crystal clear skies for the launch of Starlink L17, or the 18th mission. Remember the first launch of an all Starlink payload was considered a demonstration. Booster 1060 has now made it’s fifth successful flight for SpaceX and this morning’s launch came just twenty-seven days after it’s last flight for the Turksat-5A mission on January 8th of this year. Before Turksat-5A it flew two Starlink missions, L14 and L11 with its debut flight that of GPS III SV03 on June 30th of 2020. Tonight’s launch came with a drone ship landing. Starting from SLC-40 or Space Launch Complex 40 at Canaveral Space Force Station the Falcon 9 rocket soared on a course to the heavens heading North East, directly out over the Atlantic Ocean before landing back safely on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” which sat 633km downrange. The twenty-fourth consecutive landing came just around eight minutes after liftoff.

For St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Photo by: Matt Cutshall – NHS

The sixty Starlink satellites carried by booster 1060 sat inside two fairing halves that were also previously used before. One half from the SOACOM-1B mission while the other flew on the GPS III SV03 mission. SpaceX’s fairing recovery boats, the GO MS Tree, and GO MS Chief sat around 700km downrange, to and we have yet to receive word as to whether the fairings were successfully caught or fished out of the Ocean. Wit this newest batch of satellites launching SpaceX now has sent 1,083 of them into orbit for their Starlink constellation. Starlink, a name you will see many times in the coming years is SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk’s vision of bringing high speed, low latency internet across the globe. So far the company has announced they planned to launch 12,000 of these satellites to make up their constellation. In 2019 the company then filed with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to launch an additional 30,000 Starlink satellites. This means launching about twenty times more satellites than last year to keep up with the goal, an overwhelming number of launches, but not as far fetched as it may feel with the launch cadence picking up in Florida with the 45th Space Wing expecting over fifty total launches in 2021, the majority of them being for that Starlink constellation.