SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket Friday afternoon from the Central Coast of California along with another batch of Starlink 53 Internet satellites, bringing the total number of spacecraft launched into the network to more than 2,500, including test bases and prototypes that have been launched. It has already been recycled from the fleet.
Falcon 9 lifted off at 3:07:50 p.m. PT (6:07:50 p.m. EDT: 2207:50 GMT) Friday from Vandenberg Space Force Base, a military spaceport between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
With Vandenberg winds near the Falcon 9 launch limit, the 229-foot (70-meter) rocket runs across a sunny sky with nine Merlin engines choking out up to 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
To the southeast, the kerosene-burning engines stopped after two and a half minutes of take-off, then the booster separated from the second stage of the Falcon 9. The single engine lit up the second stage to accelerate 53 Starlink satellites into orbit, while the booster descended to a thrust landing on a ship SpaceX floating drone “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Pacific Ocean.
The landing marks the end of this boost’s fifth flight – tail number B1063 – as the upper stage of the Falcon 9 followed a coast-hugging path along Southern California and Baja California.
The second stage of Falcon 9 fired its engine twice to put the flat-packed Starlink satellites into a semi-circular orbit averaging about 193 miles (310 kilometers) above Earth, at an inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator.
The SpaceX launch team confirmed that the rocket put the satellites into the expected orbit, then deployed the Starlink spacecraft about 62 minutes after liftoff. Detention rods launched from the second stage of the Falcon 9 to allow the Starlink satellites, each over a quarter of a ton in weight, to fly away from the rocket.
The mission was the nineteenth launch of this year’s Falcon 9, and the forty-fifth mission of SpaceX primarily intended for deploying satellites to the Starlink Internet.
The launch from Vandenberg brought the total number of Starlink satellites launched to over 2,547 spacecraft. This number includes prototypes, failed satellites, and decommissioned spacecraft that are no longer in the constellation.
More than 2,200 Starlink satellites are currently in orbit and operating, according to an analysis by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who tracks spaceflight activity. This represents about half of SpaceX’s planned first generation network of 4,408 Starlink satellites.
4,400 satellites will be deployed between five different orbital “shells” at different altitudes and inclinations. SpaceX, founded and led by Elon Musk, has indicated that it intends to launch up to 42,000 satellites.
The network sends high-speed, low-latency Internet signals around the world, reaching consumers, disadvantaged communities, and other potential users such as the US military. SpaceX says the Starlink network is now available to consumers in 32 countries.
After separating from the Falcon 9 rocket, the Starlink satellites were programmed to detach solar panels and activate krypton-fueled ion thrusters to begin raising their orbits to an operating altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers).
The mission from California was scheduled to follow on Friday with another Falcon 9 launch on Saturday from Cape Canaveral. The launch from Florida will carry 53 more Starlink Internet satellites into orbit.
The launch of this year’s 20th SpaceX mission is set at 4:40:50 PM EDT (2040:50 GMT) from Panel 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Falcon 9, with its all-new first stage, will head northeast from the launch base in Florida to deliver Starlink payloads to the same altitude and mile as Friday’s flight.
The back-to-back launches of SpaceX launch in 2022 continue. With another launch on Saturday, SpaceX will have scored seven Falcon 9 missions in less than a month.
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