SpaceX on Sunday launched another 60 Starlink Internet relay platforms into orbit as the company ramps up network testing in Washington state and touts a series of nearly 300 satellites launched since June without a spacecraft failure.
Nine 1D Merlin engines ignited and propelled the Falcon 9 rocket out of Platform 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:25:57 a.m. EDT (12:25:57 GMT) Sunday, marking the 14th Falcon mission. 9 devoted to the deployment of satellites for SpaceX Starlink broadband network.
The kerosene-powered engines sped up to produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust, pulling the Falcon 9 rocket toward the northeastern space coast of Florida. Two and a half minutes later, the first stage thruster shut down its engines and detached to begin descending toward SpaceX’s “Of course, I still love you” drone in the Atlantic Ocean.
The only Merlin engine on the second stage ignited to continue the mission in orbit, and the Falcon 9’s two-piece front fairing jettisoned nearly three and a half minutes after the start of flight.
The 15-stage first-stage thruster grounded its landing on SpaceX’s drone about 630 kilometers northeast of Cape Canaveral. This was the sixth round-trip trip to space for this particular thruster – designated B1051 – after making its debut on an unmanned test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in March 2019.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on SpaceX’s “Of course, I still love you” drone in the Atlantic Ocean.
This marks the 62nd recovery of a Falcon rocket thruster and the sixth landing of this stage.
Continuous coverage: https://t.co/B5TzWEpreQ pic.twitter.com/BzBcvQdqo5
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) October 18, 2020
At the same time, the upper stage of the Falcon 9 delivered the 60 Starlink Internet satellites into a preliminary orbit. The upper stage motor then re-ignited to maneuver the payloads into a near-circular orbit 278 kilometers above Earth, tilted 53 degrees from the equator.
The 60 flat-screen satellites separated from the rocket at 9:29 a.m. EDT (1:29 p.m. GMT) to conclude SpaceX’s 70th consecutive successful mission. A camera on the upper stage showed the 60 satellites – each weighing about a quarter of a ton – flying freely from the Falcon 9 over the Indian Ocean.
“Great way to start on a Sunday,” said Andy Tran, a production supervisor at SpaceX who hosted the company’s launch webcast on Sunday.
SpaceX said its two fairing salvage ships had caught both halves of the fairing since Sunday’s launch as the shells returned to Earth under parachutes. The net from one of the ships gave way when the fairing went into orbit, but SpaceX said its ocean recovery team was OK.
With the satellites launched Sunday, SpaceX has put 835 Starlink broadband relay stations into orbit, including prototypes that will not be used for commercial service. This extends SpaceX’s lead in operating the largest fleet of satellites in orbit.
The new Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Wash., Was supposed to deploy solar panels and activate krypton ion boosters to begin raising their altitude to about 550 kilometers (341 miles), where they will begin providing service to broadband.
SpaceX’s last 60 Starlink Internet satellites were deployed from the Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX says the Atlantic ships grabbed the two halves of the rocket’s payload fairing, but one of the ships’ net gave way. The recovery team is doing fine, SpaceX says. Http://t.co/B5TzWEpreQ pic.twitter.com/L1tTgVyDED
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) October 18, 2020
SpaceX plans to operate an initial block of around 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbits 341 miles above Earth. The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has obtained regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually bring into service a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations operating on Ku-band, Ka-band and in V-band.
There are also preliminary plans for an even larger fleet of an additional 30,000 Starlink satellites, but a network of this size has not been cleared by the FCC.
SpaceX says the Starlink network – designed for low latency internet service – is “still in its infancy,” and engineers continue to test the system to collect latency data and speed tests. In an Oct. 13 filing with the FCC, SpaceX said it has started beta testing of the Starlink network in several US states and is providing internet connectivity to previously unserved students in rural areas.
On September 28, the Washington Military Department announced it was using the Starlink Internet service to respond to emergencies and that residents of Malden, Washington, were recovering from a wildfire that destroyed much of the city.
Earlier this month, Washington government officials said the Hoh Tribe was starting to use the Starlink service. SpaceX said it recently installed Starlink ground terminals on an administration building and around 20 private homes on the Hoh Tribe Reservation.
“We are very far apart,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, vice president of the Hoh tribe. “For the past eight years, I felt like we were going up the river with a spoon and barely going to the internet to access the reservation.
“It seemed like it came out of nowhere, SpaceX has come right and catapulted us into the 21st century,” Ashue said on October 7. “Our young people are able to do online education, to participate in videos. Telehealth will no longer be a problem, just like tele mental health.
In an FCC filing last week, representatives for SpaceX wrote that the company has successfully launched and operated nearly 300 new Starlink spacecraft since June without fail.
“SpaceX continues to invest in its rapid network deployment, including launching up to 120 satellites per month and installing extensive ground infrastructure across the country,” SpaceX told the FCC.
SpaceX appears to be set to launch more than 120 satellites in October.
The company added 60 satellites to the Starlink network with a Falcon 9 launch on October 6 and put in place another 60 spacecraft on Sunday. A Falcon 9 rocket is tentatively scheduled to take off from Station 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base at 12:36 a.m. EDT (4:36 p.m. GMT) on Wednesday with another flock of Starlink satellites.
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