November 28, 2022

SpaceX launches another successful Starlink mission from Florida

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Starlink 4-35 mission will launch SpaceX’s next batch of 52 Starlink broadband satellites. Follow us on Twitter.

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Another group of 52 Starlink internet satellites rocketed into orbit Saturday night from Cape Canaveral on top of a Falcon 9 launcher, continuing deployment of SpaceX’s global broadband network now accessible from all seven continents.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:32:10 p.m. EDT (2332:10 GMT) Saturday, climbing into a twilight sky that gave spectators a dazzling view as the launcher shed its first stage booster and payload fairing a few minutes after launch.

The 52 Starlink satellites on-board the Falcon 9 will add to SpaceX’s consumer-grade, high-speed, low-latency internet network. Subscribers can now connect to the Starlink network in more than 40 countries and territories.

Antarctica is one of the most recent regions where Starlink internet service is available. The National Science Foundation announced earlier this month that the agency is working with SpaceX to test the Starlink service at the agency’s McMurdo Station.

“Starlink is now active on all continents, including Antarctica,” tweeted Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO.

With 52 more satellites on the way to join the constellation Saturday night, SpaceX moves closer to fully deploying its initial fleet of 4,400 Starlink spacecraft. After Saturday night’s mission, SpaceX has sent 3,399 Starlink satellites into orbit, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The company currently has around 3,000 functioning Starlink satellites in space, with about 2,500 operational and another 500 moving into their operational orbits, according to a tabulation by Jonathan McDowell, an expert tracker of spaceflight activity and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The launch Sunday night, designated Starlink 4-35, was SpaceX’s 43rd launch of the year.

About 15 minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage released the 52 Starlink satellites over the North Atlantic Ocean traveling at a velocity of some 17,000 mph.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off Saturday night with 52 more Starlink internet satellites. Credit: SpaceX

The Starlink 4-35 mission was the fourth Falcon 9 mission of the month. SpaceX is tentatively planning one more Falcon 9 launch with additional Starlink satellites before the end of September, but that schedule hinges on potential impacts from soon-to-be Hurricane Ian, which is forecast to threaten Florida next week.

SpaceX plans to complete more than 60 missions this year, an average of about one launch every six days.

The higher launch rate has been aided by shorter turnarounds between missions at launch pads in Florida and California, and SpaceX’s reuse of Falcon 9 boosters and payload fairings. Launches carrying satellites for SpaceX’s own Starlink internet network, like the mission Saturday night, have accounted for about two-thirds of the company’s Falcon 9 flights so far this year.

The Falcon 9 booster that launched Saturday night is numbered B1073 in SpaceX’s inventory of reusable rockets. The booster debuted May 14 with a launch carrying Starlink satellites, then flew again June 29 with the SES 22 commercial communications satellite. Most recently, the booster launched and landed Aug. 9 on another Starlink mission.

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Stationed inside a launch control center just south of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for Saturday night’s countdown, SpaceX’s launch team began loading super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes.

Helium pressurant also flowed into the rocket in the last half-hour of the countdown. In the final seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines were thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “chilldown.” The Falcon 9’s guidance and range safety system were also configured for launch.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket vectored its 1.7 million pounds of thrust — produced by nine Merlin engines — to steer northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket exceeded the speed of sound in about one minute, then shut down its nine main engines two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. The booster stage released from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired pulses from cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grid fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two braking burns slowed the rocket for landing on the drone ship “A Shortfall Of Gravitas” around 400 miles (650 kilometers) downrange approximately nine minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing jettisoned during the second stage burn. A recovery ship was also on station in the Atlantic to retrieve the two halves of the nose cone after they splash down under parachutes.

Good visibility allowed spectators to track the two halves of the payload shroud and the Falcon 9’s booster stage as they fired cold gas nitrogen thrusters to control their orientation. The Falcon 9’s upper stage continued accelerating as it headed northeast, flying just off the U.S. East Coast.

Landing of the first stage on Saturday’s mission occurred moments after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine cut off to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. Separation of the 52 Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket was confirmed at T+plus 15 minutes, 28 seconds.

Retention rods released from the Starlink payload stack, allowing the flat-packed satellites to fly free from the Falcon 9’s upper stage in orbit. The 52 spacecraft will unfurl solar arrays and run through automated activation steps, then use krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.

The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aims deploy the satellites into an elliptical orbit at an inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use on-board propulsion to do the rest of the work to reach a circular orbit 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth.

The Starlink satellites will fly in one of five orbital “shells” at different inclinations for SpaceX’s global internet network. After reaching their operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin beaming broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network with a SpaceX-supplied ground terminal.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1073.4)

PAYLOAD: 52 Starlink satellites (Starlink 4-35)

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: Sept. 24, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 7:32:10 p.m. EDT (2332:10 GMT) or 8:51 p.m. EDT (0051 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: 80% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of upper level winds; Low risk of unfavorable conditions for booster recovery

BOOSTER RECOVERY: “A Shortfall Of Gravitas” drone ship east of Charleston, South Carolina

LAUNCH AZIMUTH: Northeast

TARGET ORBIT: 144 miles by 209 miles (232 kilometers by 337 kilometers), 53.2 degrees inclination

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Liftoff
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:26: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:30: Stage separation
  • T+02:36: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:41: Fairing jettison
  • T+06:44: First stage entry burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+07:05: First stage entry burn cutoff
  • T+08:30: First stage landing burn ignition (one engine)
  • T+08:47: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 1)
  • T+08:52: First stage landing
  • T+15:28: Starlink satellite separation

MISSION STATS:

  • 177th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 185th launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
  • 4th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1073
  • 152nd Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 98th Falcon 9 launch from pad 40
  • 153rd launch overall from pad 40
  • 119th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
  • 62nd dedicated Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites
  • 43rd Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 43rd launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 41st orbital launch attempt based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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