SpaceX continued to speed up its launch rate with another Starlink mission from Cape Canaveral on Friday, completing a rapid retrain with a Falcon 9 first-stage booster flying for the second time in 21 days.
Friday’s mission, designed as Starlink 4-16, was the 151st launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since SpaceX debuted its cargo vehicle on June 4, 2010, and the 43rd Falcon 9 flight dedicated primarily to putting Starlink Internet repeater stations in orbit. The launch was SpaceX’s 17th mission of the year and Falcon 9’s sixth launch in April, the most by SpaceX in a single month.
SpaceX has increased its launch cadence this year. Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, said SpaceX aims to complete 60 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy flights by 2022, nearly double the 31 missions flown last year. The launch rate is maintained thanks to SpaceX’s reuse of booster rockets and payload fairings. Only one of the 17 Falcon 9 flights so far this year has used an entirely new rocket.
The booster that flew on Friday’s mission, tail number B1062, landed on SpaceX’s unmanned spacecraft “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the Atlantic Ocean after launch with Axiom’s Ax-1 mission on April 8. The unmanned craft returned the rocket to port for inspections and minor operations. refurbishment, then SpaceX integrated the booster stage with a new second stage and brought the rocket to the hangar on pad 40.
Inside the hangar, SpaceX technicians docked the rocket with its payload of 53 Starlink satellites, already encapsulated inside the Falcon 9’s front deck. SpaceX rolled the fully assembled Falcon 9 onto the pad just north of the hangar on Thursday, he then raised it vertically for final launch preparations.
Friday’s launch marked the fastest changeover between flights of the same Falcon booster, breaking the previous record of 27 days.
After a smooth countdown, the Falcon 9 fired its Merlin main engines and pulled away from Pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 5:27:10 p.m. EDT (21:27:10 GMT) on Friday. Powered by kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants, Merlin 1D engines propelled the 229-foot (70-meter) rocket through the stratosphere on a trajectory northeast of the Florida coast.
Amid the fading rumble of the Falcon 9 rocket’s engines, the first stage flamed out and jettisoned, then arced to an altitude of nearly 400,000 feet before descending for a booster vertical landing on the unmanned craft. and a half minutes after launch.
Like most recent Starlink missions, the Falcon 9 upper stage placed the 53 Starlink satellites into a nearly circular orbit at an average altitude of 310 kilometers (192 miles) for the deployment of the 53 compact spacecraft, each with a weighing just over a quarter of a ton
The second stage fired its single vacuum-optimized engine for two burns to place the Starlink satellites into the correct orbit for separation. The deployment of the Starlink satellites occurred over South Australia about 59 minutes after the mission.
Falcon 9 launched the satellites into an orbit inclined 53.2 degrees from the equator, one of five orbital “layers” used in SpaceX’s global Internet network.
The Starlink satellites will expand solar arrays and use integrated ion thrusters to reach their operational orbit at an altitude of 540 kilometers (335 miles), where they will enter commercial service and begin transmitting broadband signals to consumers.
SpaceX has now launched 2,441 Starlink satellites to date, including spacecraft that were decommissioned or suffered failures. More than 2,100 of those satellites are in orbit and operational as of Friday, according to a list maintained by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who tracks spaceflight activity.
That makes Starlink’s fleet the largest satellite constellation in the world, by a factor of nearly five over the Internet satellite fleet owned by rival OneWeb.
SpaceX is filling its current generation network with 4,400 satellites. Ultimately, SpaceX intends to launch as many as 42,000 internet satellites, but the final figure depends on market demand for the Starlink service, which offers high-speed, low-latency connectivity.
SpaceX says the service is best suited for customers in remote and hard-to-reach areas, such as rural communities, isolated homes, islands and ships. Customers can sign up for Starlink service online by paying a reservation fee and paying $599 for an antenna and modem. SpaceX charges $110 per month for consumer-grade Starlink service.
SpaceX has partnered with the US military to demonstrate Starlink connectivity to aircraft. Delta Air Lines has also conducted “exploratory” tests of the Starlink system for possible future use on passenger planes, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Airline JSX announced on April 21 that it will equip 100 of its private jets to use SpaceX’s Internet service for in-flight WiFi. The first Starlink-equipped JSX aircraft should be flying by the end of this year, the company said.
“High-speed, low-latency internet is critical in our modern age, and during air travel is no exception,” Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s vice president of Starlink commercial sales, said in a press release. “With Starlink, we can provide an Internet experience similar to or better than what passengers experience at home. We’re creating a future where when every customer gets on the plane, the Internet just works, with no hassles and no logins. By being the first airline to adopt Starlink, JSX is setting this new standard for air travel.”
First stage landing confirmed. This Falcon 9 booster, tail number B1062, launched and landed for the second time in just 21 days, a new record. It was the sixth flight overall for this booster. https://t.co/dc9LCfFbCQ pic.twitter.com/wHCvR0xhsz
— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) April 29, 2022
Hawaiian Airlines announced on April 25 that it will become the first major passenger airline to add Starlink service to its aircraft. The airline said it will offer free Wi-Fi access to all of its passengers on flights between Hawaii and the continental United States, Asia and other parts of the Oceania region.
“When we launch with Starlink, we will have the best connectivity experience available in the air,” said Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines. “We waited until the technology reached our high standards for the guest experience, but the wait will be worth it.”
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