SpaceX marks record 20th flight with Falcon 9 payload fairing half on Starlink mission

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars above Florida’s Space Coast amid the Starlink 10-2 mission on June 23, 2024. Image: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX completed the launch of its first Starlink mission from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in more than two weeks on Saturday. The last time the company attempted to launch the Starlink 10-2 mission, it encountered a rare scrub as the Falcon 9’s first stage Merlin engines began firing.

Liftoff of the rescheduled flight happened at 1:15 p.m. EDT (1715 UTC), the opening of a nearly four-hour window, from Space Launch Complex 40. The mission also marked the first time SpaceX launched one of its payload fairings for a 20th time.

Activity in the tropics creates some uncertainty for the launch from a meteorological perspective, but proved to not be prohibiting to launch. On Saturday, June 22, the 45th Weather Squadron issued a launch weather forecast that suggests just 50 percent odds of favorable launch weather at the opening of the launch window.

Heading into the start of fueling, SpaceX stated on X (formerly Twitter) that the weather improved to 70 percent favorable for launch.

“Deep tropical moisture will remain entrenched across the Florida peninsula into early next week, and as a result, scattered to numerous showers and thunderstorms can be expected each day, largely favoring the afternoon and evening hours,” the forecast stated.

“While atmospheric flow will remain weak enough to allow daily seabreeze development, an incoming trough will likely result in delayed formation and westward progression by Monday and Tuesday, with initial storm development closer to the coast on those days.”

The Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission, B1078, launched for an 11th time. It previously launched the astronauts and cosmonaut of the Crew-6 mission, the USSF-124 mission and seven previous Starlink flights.

A little more than eight minutes after liftoff, B1078 landed on the SpaceX droneship, ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas.’ This was the 75th booster landing for ASOG and the 321st booster landing to date.

However, B1078 wasn’t always the intended booster for this mission though. The original flight plan had B1073 as the first stage booster. However, the booster was swapped out following a last-second scrub on June 14.

SpaceX hasn’t elaborated on the issue or issues that caused the scrub during engine ignition, but in a June 15 post on X (formerly Twitter), Kiko Dontchev, the vice president of Launch at SpaceX said: “Tough week dealing with production challenges and then a rare scrub at engine startup yesterday on 10-2. “Unfortunately there is a real issue so we need to go inspect the hardware in detail on this vehicle… Painful, but safety and reliability are the priority.”

This was the 45th launch of Starlink satellites so far in 2024 with another planned for Sunday evening, which is set to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 8:45 p.m. PDT (11:45 p.m. EDT, 0345 UTC).

Starlink 10-2 added another 22 satellites to the growing megaconstellation. With this launch, SpaceX has launched 1,007 Starlink satellites this year alone.

According to expert orbital tracker and astronomer, Jonathan McDowell, there are more than 6,000 active Starlink satellites on orbit.

Falcon Heavy prepares to fly again

While SpaceX is preparing to launch a pair of Falcon 9 rockets on both sides of the country, in Florida, it’s also working with NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to launch a new weather satellite on June 25 at 5:16 p.m. EDT (2116 UTC).

NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) contracted SpaceX to launch the final satellite in the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R (GOES-R) series. NOAA describes these as “the Western Hemisphere’s most sophisticated weather-observing and environmental-monitoring system.”

Crews transport NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-U) from the Astrotech Space Operations facility to the SpaceX hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida beginning on Friday, June 14, 2024, with the operation finishing early Saturday, June 15, 2024. Image: NASA

In an interview with Spaceflight Now on Friday NASA’s launch director, Dr. Denton Gibson, said the launch team will be monitoring the weather over the next few days.

“We have some planning to do or decisions to make in terms of when we roll the vehicle out and before we do all of our final preps for launch,” Gibson said.

He said they would make a determination on whether a rollout of the Falcon Heavy rocket from the hangar to the pad would make more sense on Sunday or Monday.

The Falcon Heavy has a backup launch date of June 26, but if it slips beyond that, Gibson said there would need to be discussions with the Eastern Range before a new date could be booked.

Watch live views of the Falcon Heavy launch pad.