SpaceX successfully launched 51 additional Starlink satellites today, bringing its total to 4,391.
Launching at 1:09 p.m. PT (20:09 UTC) from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Starlink Group 2-9 took off on a Falcon 9. It was a rare moment of no fog around SLC-4E, which was one of the more picturesque. launch pad in the world.
With an on-time launch, this is the fastest turnaround time ever for SLC-4E at just 12 days. These quick turnaround times are essential for SpaceX to maintain its rapid launch cadence and ultimate goal of up to 100 launches in just one year.
The Falcon 9 launching this batch of Starlink satellites is B1075 on its third flight, having previously supported Transport and Tracking Layer Flight 1 and Starlink Group 2-4 from Vandenberg Space Force Base. The fairings are also flight-proven on this flight, with both fairing halves flying for their second time and will be retrieved by ‘Go Beyond’, the newest addition to the SpaceX fleet.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 10, 2023
Two and a half minutes after launch, B1075 separated from the second stage and began its journey back to Earth, landing on the drone ship ‘Off Course I Still Love You’ exactly eight minutes after takeoff. The second stage burned for another six minutes before being beached for fourteen and a half minutes before the Falcon 9 second stage deployed the Starlink satellites.
It’s been a relatively quick mission for Starlink lately, with some of the more recent deployments coming in more than an hour after their initial launches.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship pic.twitter.com/wL2qRtrYxI
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 10, 2023
According to Planet 4589’s Jonathan McDowell, SpaceX has now launched 4,391 Starlink satellites, of which 3,478 will be operational if this current batch of satellites makes it through their technical checks and orbital positioning in the coming weeks.
The next launch for SpaceX will be the Group 5-9 Starlink satellites, this time from SLC-40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, currently scheduled for launch at 12:58 AM ET (04:58 UTC).
SpaceX launched another big batch of its Starlink internet satellites into orbit and landed a return rocket on a ship at sea today (May 10).
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 51 Starlink spacecraft lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 4:09 p.m. ET. Today. ET (2009 GMT; 1:09 p.m. local California time).
A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rests on a drone ship of Sure I Still Love You after launch and landing on May 10, 2023.
SpaceX has already launched more than 4,300 satellites for its broadband megaconstellation, Starlink. But many more are expected to rise: The company has permission to deploy 12,000 Starlink spacecraft and has applied for approval to take another 30,000 on top of that.
SpaceX has two missions planned for 2023 with its mighty Falcon Heavy rocket, and the company sent up its massive, next-generation spaceflight system, the fully-stacked Starship, for the first time on April 20.
A Falcon 9 rocket has successfully launched SpaceX’s Starlink 2-4 mission after seven delays from November 2022 to January 2023.
Starlink 2-4 was originally scheduled to launch as early as November 18, 2022, but was delayed shortly after its Falcon 9 rocket conducted a static fire test. The delay was indeterminate, and that specific rocket eventually launched a different commercial payload in late December.
The Internet satellite launch was eventually rescheduled for January 9, 2023, causing additional delays. Weather delayed the January 9 attempt. Issues with the Falcon 9’s second stage delayed the January 10 attempt.
Additional “pre-launch checkout” delayed the launch from 11 January to 14 January, which was later pushed to 15 January for “constellation optimization”.
Bad weather delayed Starlink 2-4 from January 15 to January 18, and SpaceX eventually delayed the mission until January 19 without explanation. On January 19, SpaceX delayed Starlink 2-4 for the eighth time, from 7:23 AM PST to 7:43 AM PST. But at long last, Starlink 2-4 did, in fact, lift off at 7:43 a.m. PST, ending the longest streak of delays experienced by SpaceX in several years.
In a rare twist, the first delay caused SpaceX to shuffle booster assignments, and Starlink 2-4 wound up with B1075. B1075 had never flown before, making Starlink 2-4 the second Starlink mission to debut the new Falcon booster.
Typically, SpaceX has always reserved new boosters for its more conservative customers – only a few of which are built annually. The US military was particularly slow to warm to the idea of flying operational “national security” payloads on reused Falcon boosters, and required (and paid for) new boosters whenever possible. ,
But that wall also mostly collapsed in 2022. SpaceX debuting another new Falcon 9 booster on its low-priority Starlink mission is perhaps the best evidence of that.
NASA and the US military have begun to rely on SpaceX’s flight-proven Falcon boosters, and no longer feel the need to reserve every new Falcon 9.
Falcon 9 booster B1075 finally began its orbital-class launch and landed on the Off Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) drone ship about nine minutes after liftoff. Assuming the seas are calm enough for the B1075 to avoid a return to the port of Long Beach, it is likely to have 15+ launches.
The Falcon upper stage launched by B1075 eventually reached low Earth orbit (LEO) and deployed the other 51 Starlink V1.5 satellites approximately 30 minutes after liftoff. Starlink 2-4 should leave SpaceX with approximately 3400 working Starlink satellites in orbit.
B1075’s landing also revealed that SpaceX has upgraded to the OCISLY drone ship since it was last used in October 2022. Harry Stranger first discovered the changes with satellite imagery that revealed SpaceX was upgrading OCISLY’s rectangular hull with angular ‘fins’.
The wings appear to be similar to those installed on SpaceX’s latest drone ship, A Shortfall of Gravitas. ASOG is slated to launch in mid-2021 with a number of upgrades over those on SpaceX’s two other drone ships. Most were aimed at improving the ship’s flexibility, availability and autonomy.
According to photographer Jerry Pike, the angled fins on the ASOG (and now OCISLY) can make the drone ship much easier to tow. Reducing drag could also increase the effectiveness of their existing propulsion systems, potentially allowing them to maintain their position in harsher sea conditions and stronger currents than before.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has previously said that the ultimate goal is a fully autonomous drone ship capable of going out to sea, recovering the Falcon booster and returning to port without human intervention.
There is no evidence that SpaceX is any closer to that goal since ASOG’s launch 16 months ago. Nonetheless, upgrading to OCISLY should improve the drone ship’s usefulness as SpaceX seeks to launch (and land) 100 rockets in 2023.