photo by: Kyle Montgomery – NHS
May 26th – 2:59 PM Est Atop a Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-40 At Canaveral Space Force Station
For the fifth launch in just four weeks, SpaceX has launched another sixty Starlink satellites for their high speed low latency internet company. Of those 1,737 satellites launched there are currently 1,666 still orbiting Earth and in operation. After today SpaceX will have global coverage, even though the constellation will not be complete until 42,000 of the small satellites are in orbit. The venture is expected to profit between thirty and fifty billion dollars annually, which will provide Elon Musk with the finance their ambitious Starship program and Mars Base Alpha.
This launch also marks the end of the first Starlink shell. The shell consisting of 1,584 satellites is in a 53 degree 550km low Earth orbit. It also has seventy-two orbital planes with twenty-two satellites in each plane. Internet coverage between roughly 52 degrees and -52 degrees latitude, or about eighty percent of Earth’s surface and will not feature the laser links until replacement satellites are launched after 2021.
Flying today’s mission was SpaceX Falcon 9 booster 1063 for it’s second flight. Its first mission was in November of 2020 when it launched from Vandenburg Space Force Station in California for the Sentinal-6 Michael Freilich mission. Since it last flew two engines have been replaced after a slight pressure drop was noticed during the landing phase burn during that Sentinal-6 mission. As far as re flights go, this is now the twenty-seventh second flight of a Falcon 9 first stage booster, and the 119th overall launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Launching from the primary Space Launch Complex, 40 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station this marked the seventy-first mission launched for SpaceX there to date. With the weather forecast provided by Space Launch Delta 45 at a 90% chance of GO today all things looked, and went smoothly for lift off. Those nine Merlin 1D engines ignited. Around one minute twelve seconds into flight the rocket reached Max Q or the moment of the highest stress on the rocket as it passes through the atmosphere. At two and a half minutes MECO (Main Engine Cut Off) occurred and a few seconds later the second stage separates from the first before starting it’s engine. Half a minute later the fairings were deployed and began their descent back to Earth where the GO Ship Searcher will fish them from the water for it’s first active faring recovery mission. About eight and half minutes after lift off booster 1063 landed on the autonomous drone ship “Just Read The Instructions” around 633km out in the Atlantic Ocean, and marks the end of today’s mission for the booster. It was just over an hour after liftoff that the actual payload was deployed as the Starlink satellites finally reached their destined orbit.