Dec. 1st atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 6:20 PM Est from SLC-40 at CCSFS
The second Starlink satellite launch in less than a month has just launched from Florida’s space coast. As the seasons change and cool weather starts to invade our sunshine state launch season is ramping up. Tonight’s launch was the first of five planned for the month of December. Four of those being SpaceX Falcon 9s, and on being an ULA (United Launch Alliance) Atlas V rocket. I suppose that officially makes this the first day of launch season!
Do you need a refresher on what Starlink is exactly? then keep reading. If not, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. Starlink is the internet company from SpaceX derived from a giant satellite communications constellation. The LEO (Low Earth Orbit) constellation is set to provide high speed, low latency internet services across the globe where ground based internet is not reliable or not available.
Tonight’s mission, another Starlink is the thirty-fist operational launch of Starlink missions. When the second stage ejects the fifty-three satellites into their desired inclination the total number of operational satellites will become 1,766, with 1,897 total have been launched. This mission will also mark the second launch of the fourth Starlink shell, with about twenty-eight more launches to go before that fourth shell is complete. Reportedly there will be forty-eight Starlinks on board this Falcon 9 rocket, the upgraded version is slightly larger therefor requiring more space inside the fairing. The total payload mass is 15,600 kg (or 34,400 lbs) (53 x 290 kg, plus dispenser). Also, onboard tonight’s launch are two satellites for the company BlackSky. This marks the second time the company has hitched a ride for some of their satellites with SpaceX. Weighing around one-hundred-twenty-one pounds each they are considered microsatellites and will be used for Earth imagining capabilities.
Flying tonight’s mission was none other than Falcon 9 B1060, which first flew in June of 2020 for the GPS III SV03 mission. Since then it has flown six more Starlink missions and the Turksat 5A mission in January of this year. Making its eighth launch now, B1060 is become a veteran of the SpaceX launch fleet. Roughly 620km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean the SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas was there to catch the first stage booster as it safely landed down. It will now be towed back to Port Canaveral where it will be offloaded and refurbished for that ninth flight.
SpaceX vessel Bob was also on hand in the Atlantic to recover the fairings jettisoned, they landed roughly 665km down range, just a bit further than the booster. Tonight’s mission also marks the 130th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket with it being the 96th successful landing, and the 71st Falcon 9 flight with a flight proven booster. Since the mission launched from SLC-40 (Space Launch Complex 40) at Canaveral Space Force Station this makes 76th successful launches from SpaceX here, and breaks the record SpaceX previously held for launches in a year at twenty-seven. Last year when SpaceX ended the year with twenty-six launches most people thought this was a tremendous effort and would be hard to beat. At the beginning of the year the company announced they were preparing for up to forty launches this year, and they may have fallen short of that lofty goal, but if all goes accordingly to years end they will reach thirty!