At 3:24 AM Est atop a Falcon 9 rocket from LC-39 from the Kennedy Space Center
Photo by: Kyle Montgomery – NHS
With Starlink L18, and L19 already in their respective orbits, tonight’s launch will set the schedule straight with the launches resuming their numbered procedure. With the 45th Space Wing giving the launch only ten percent chance of violating the weather constraints all things looked good before lift off. The only main concerns were cumulous clouds in the area and lift off winds. Clouds there were lots of them, the entire space coast was blanketed in a thick almost fog like weather pattern with clouds below one-thousand feet altitude. The thick clouds didn’t stop this rocket from soaring though as when the clock struck T-minus zero all nine Merlin 1D engines ignited and light up the dark sky around Cape Canaveral. For a brief moment in time night turned to day as the Falcon 9 rocket got further and further from the ground. The engines rumbled, shaking cars and buildings, let alone bystanders watching close by as the almost 1.9 million pounds of thrust pushed the rocket off the planet. With this mission now a success SpaceX has two rockets which have flown eight times, and puts each within reach of their goal of ten flights per booster before major refurbishments are needed. Booster 1049 has lead the pack for most of these flights, staying ever slightly ahead of booster 1051. We then saw Booster 1051 make the fastest turn around of any Falcon 9 to date and take the lead with its eighth flight.
Tonight’s lift off comes a little over two weeks since their most recent launch. That launch was the last flight of SpaceX booster 1059. On February 15th, the first stage booster failed to successfully land on top of the recovery drone ship on it’s sixth flight, after it deployed a batch of sixty Starlink satellites. Recently a SpaceX official stated the cause for the failed landing was due to “heat damage”. After twenty-four successful landings in a row and almost a full year since the last failure this came as quite a shock to many who follow along with the companies launches. It also slowed down the launch cadence as Elon Musk stated early this year he was planning to launch around forty rockets in 2021 for his internet provider company. With each failure comes an opportunity to learn where things went wrong and improve on the systems to ensure less failures in the future. This is something SpaceX has done incredibly well, in fact Elon has been quoted saying “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing you are not innovating.”
Tonight marked the 109th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket and was the first launch of booster 1049 from LC-39A. It also became the company’s 75th overall landing of a Falcon 9. This landing took place on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You”, which was Sitting downrange 633km in the Atlantic Ocean for it’s 45th recovery attempt. SpaceX also employees two marine vessels that attempt to catch the fairing halves from the sky as they fall back to Earth. If they are not caught they are scooped from the water instead to be refitted for possible reflight. One of the fairing halves flown tonight has seen Earth from above three previous times, making tonight the first, fourth launch of a SpaceX fairing. These two vessels, the GO MS Chief, and GO MS Tree are currently sitting in Port Canaveral having some refurbishments done, so there was no attempt to catch the fairing halves this launch. We did however have the SpaceX Dragon recovery vessels, GO Navigator and GO Searcher out at sea to pluck the halves from the Ocean and return them home. These boats were seen earlier in the week at port doing drills with practice fairings to ensure the crew would be skilled at retrieving the space shells.
With these sixty Starlink satellites now in orbit the company has launched more than twelve-hundred of the flat paneled satellites inching their company closer to providing commercial internet services across the globe. As of now they are providing internet to thousands of people on a test basis and rolling out the option to pre-order their services from the Starlink website.