SpaceX launches 58 Starlink satellites and 3 Planet SkySats, nails rocket landing | Eurasia Diary -

22 January, Friday

SpaceX launches 58 Starlink satellites and 3 Planet SkySats, nails rocket landing

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 SpaceX successfully launched its first rideshare mission into orbit today (June 13), lofting a new batch of 58 Starlink internet satellites along with three small Earth-observation satellites before nailing a Falcon 9 rocket landing at sea, reports citing

It was a mostly clear morning, with just a few clouds above the launch pad here at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at liftoff. Onlookers were treated to an awesome view in the predawn sky — the glow from the rocket's engines were visible well into the flight as it launched at 5:21 a.m. EDT (0921 GMT).

"Liftoff of Falcon 9 and Starlink ocho," a SpaceX launch commentator said, referring to the mission's Starlink 8 in Spanish. 

The launch is the second Starlink mission so far this month, with one more on the schedule for no earlier than June 22. SpaceX is taking advantage of its fleet of flight-proven Falcon 9 boosters, with plans of launching a record four times in June. 

Because the sky was so clear, the landing burn — which enables the rocket to safely land on the drone ship — was clearly visible from the launch site, roughly 600 miles (970 km) away. 

Today's mission starred a veteran member of SpaceX's rocket fleet. The Falcon 9 — whose first stage already had two flights under its belt before today's mission — had a sooty appearance resulting from its previous trips through the atmosphere. 

The first stage of the Falcon 9 featured in today's mission is now a three-time flier, as it previously launched two SpaceX robotic resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) — CRS-19 in December 2019 and CRS-20 in March of this year. 

For its third mission, the booster known as B1059 carried 58 Starlink satellites into space, bringing to 540 the number of total Starlink craft launched to date. SpaceX has plans to launch thousands of Starlink satellites, so this is only the beginning. 
To that end, company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said that SpaceX will need at least 800 Starlink craft on orbit to begin providing moderate internet coverage to customers in the United States and Canada. The service will roll out to the rest of the world sometime after that. The initial Starlink megaconstellation is expected to include about 12,000 satellites.
While this mission carried the name Starlink 8 at SpaceX, it is actually the ninth flight to carry a batch of the internet satellites into orbit. The first 60-satellite launch occurred in May 2019.A typical Starlink launch delivers 60 satellites into orbit, but this mission's reduced numbers allowed for additional satellites to climb on board. As part of a rideshare agreement with the Earth-imaging company Planet, SpaceX launched three small SkySat satellites — a first for the Starlink program. 

Planet has also booked room for three more SkySat satellites on a future Starlink mission, estimated to launch sometime this summer. However, SpaceX’s next Starlink launch will also share its payload fairing with another customer: Seattle-based BlackSky Global, which has booked a ride for two of its Earth-observing satellites.  

Planet's final six SkySats will join 15 others currently in orbit, but the newcomers will operate in different orbital planes. The original batch are flying in sun-synchronous orbit, which provides them with views of Earth's surface that are consistently bathed in sunlight. 

However, SkySats 16-21 will operate in a mid-inclination orbit of 53 degrees that offers "more targeted coverage and raw image capacity in key geographic regions," Planet representatives wrote in a blog post.

Approximately eight minutes after its successful liftoff this morning, B1059 separated from its upper stage and proceeded to perform a series of orbital ballet moves as it reoriented itself for landing. As the rocket travelled back through the atmosphere, it conducted a series of engine burns that slowed it enough to gently touch down on a floating platform waiting in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Dubbed “Of Course I Still Love You,” the massive drone ship is one of two vessels that SpaceX uses to catch its returning boosters. To date, the company has successfully recovered 54 first-stage boosters. Once they’re back in Florida's Port Canaveral, the boosters are transported back to SpaceX facilities, where they're carefully inspected and repurposed to fly again. 

SpaceX upgraded its Falcon 9 rocket in 2018, and this iteration — known as the "Block 5" — features 1.7 million pounds of thrust as well as some other upgrades that make it capable of rapid reuse. SpaceX officials have said that each of these boosters can fly as many as 10 times with few refurbishments in between, and as many as 100 times before retirement. (To date, SpaceX has launched and landed the same booster a maximum of five times.) 

SpaceX recently moved its second drone ship, “Just Read the Instructions,” to the Atlantic Ocean. The addition of a second drone ship operating in the same ocean will enable SpaceX to recover more rockets. It typically takes each drone ship two to three days to reach the landing site and then another two to three days to return to shore with the booster. If SpaceX expects to keep up its launch cadence of nearly one flight per week, we could see both ships getting a lot of action soon. 

Thanks to the sheer number of satellites in orbit, SpaceX is operating the largest satellite fleet ever. Ever since its first Starlink launch, the company has come under fire from astronomers and scientists around the world over concerns that the constellation's apparent brightness will disrupt astronomical observations. 

To that end, SpaceX has been experimenting with different ways of reducing the satellites' brightness. Musk and SpaceX have said that they will be adding special sunshades to future Starlink satellites. These will act as a visor of sorts that limits the craft's reflectivity. 

During the previous Starlink launch, SpaceX outfitted a single satellite with this new sun visor to test how it works on orbit. While this latest batch of 58 satellites does not have the sunshades installed, SpaceX has said that all future launches, beginning with Starlink 10, will have them. 


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