After a few days of delays that brought the missions closer together, SpaceX is now preparing to launch two batches of 53 Starlink satellites just eight hours apart, one from Florida and the other from California.
Originally scheduled to launch early May 10, which would have tied SpaceX’s Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) SLC-4E launch pad’s turnaround record, Starlink 4-13 slipped to May 12. May in the last days. 2,400 miles (~3,900 km) to the east, SpaceX’s Starlink 4-15 mission, preparing to launch from the company’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) pad LC-40, encountered recently on the opposite boat.
On April 22, Spaceflight Now reported that Starlink 4-15 was scheduled to launch no earlier than (NET) May 8. At the time, Starlink 4-13 was also scheduled to launch on the 8th, placing the two Starlink missions just a few hours apart. On April 28, Spaceflight Now updated its well-informed launch schedule, revealing that Starlink 4-13 had slipped to May 10 and Starlink 4-15 to May 16, ending their concurrence. Finally, on May 7 and 8, photographer Ben Cooper reported that Starlink 4-15 had moved up at 2:08 a.m. EDT (06:08 UTC) on May 13 and FAA documents revealed that Starlink 4-13 had skidded again at 3:29 p.m. PDT (22:29 UTC) on May 12. of May.
In other words, the missions met again just a handful of hours apart after weeks of juggling and unrelated delays. Barring additional issues, Starlink 4-13 and Starlink 4-15 are scheduled to launch just 7 hours and 41 minutes apart. Set for late 2021, the shortest time between two Falcon launches is currently 15 hours and 17 minutes. But above all, the constant back and forth, only to end up with both launches again just hours apart, demonstrates just how agonizing and relentless the planning behind each rocket launch schedule really is.
Fittingly, Starlink’s unmanned ship 4-13 headed to the sea only ~60 hours before the scheduled launch and the Starlink 4-15 drone has yet to depart, keeping the launch dates for both missions as uncertain as can be with no guarantee of delays. Both drone ships need to be towed down about 400 miles at speeds that rarely exceed 8-10 mph, which translates to a minimum two-day trip, even without stops, slowdowns, or detours.
Beyond the record breaking potential, Starlink 4-13 is an ordinary mission that will launch another 53 Starlink V1.5 satellites at an ordinary inclination of 53.2 degrees, which simply means they will end up in the same “shell” as the other satellites in the Starlink ‘Group 4’ shell. Despite launching from the opposite coast of the US, Starlink 4-15 will be nearly identical and is expected to deploy another 53 Starlink V1.5 satellites in the same orbital shell. However, it seems that Starlink 4-15 will be They have some very unusual features.
Instead of performing a hockey stick-like “dog leg” maneuver to avoid flying over the populated islands of the Bahamas, Falcon 9 will fly directly over the country’s largest western island. Y try to land right in the middle of the archipelago, possibly landing on a drone ship just 5-15 miles away from Nassau and a couple of other islands. The very fact that SpaceX was able to convince both the Bahamas and the US FAA to allow it to fly on the trajectory shown above is extremely impressive and belies a deep rely on SpaceX’s expertise and the safety and reliability of Falcon 9. At the same time, SpaceX may be taking some degree of risk, since the minuscule margins of trajectory error likely mean that the Falcon 9’s automatic flight termination system Falcon 9 will be programmed to destroy the rocket at the slightest indication of deviation from the planned trajectory.
In addition to rarity, Starlink 4-15 will be the first in a long list of Four. Five Dedicated Starlink launches to debut a new Falcon 9 booster. According to Next Spaceflight, Falcon 9 B1073 will claim that unusual first, almost completely changing the precedent of conservative government customers still coy about reusing SpaceX, scrambling to secure opportunities for increasingly rare launches on the new Falcon 9 boosters. Alternatively, it is possible, but unlikely, that SpaceX will implement significant changes to Falcon 9 B1073 that it wants to independently verify before risking customer payloads.
With any luck, the new rocket will work perfectly and give a few nearby Bahamians a truly unique experience: the ability to see a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster land at sea… from the comfort of their own homes.