SpaceX launched 60 more Starlink internet relay platforms into orbit on Sunday as the company pushes network testing in Washington state and announced a series of nearly 300 satellites that have been launched without a spacecraft failure since June.
Nine Merlin 1D engines fired and propelled the Falcon 9 rocket from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:25:57 a.m. EDT (1225: 57 GMT) on Sunday. This was the 14th Falcon 9 mission dedicated to deploying satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network.
The kerosene-powered engines throttled to produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust and propelled the Falcon 9 rocket northeast from the Florida space coast. Two and a half minutes later, the first stage booster shut off its engines and disengaged to disembark in the direction of SpaceX’s drone ship “Of course I still love you” in the Atlantic.
The second stage single Merlin engine fired to continue the mission into orbit, and the Falcon 9’s two-piece nose drape dropped almost three and a half minutes into flight.
The 15-story booster of the first stage landed on SpaceX’s drone ship around 630 kilometers northeast of Cape Canaveral. It was the sixth trip to space and back for this particular booster – dubbed the B1051 – after debuting on a non-piloted test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in March 2019.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket has successfully landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of course I still love you” in the Atlantic.
This is the 62nd recovery of a Falcon missile amplifier and the sixth landing for this stage.
Continuation of reporting: https://t.co/B5TzWEpreQ pic.twitter.com/BzBcvQdqo5
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) October 18, 2020
At the same time, the upper stage of the Falcon 9 put the 60 Starlink Internet satellites into temporary orbit. The upper stage engine was later reignited to maneuver the payloads into a near-circular orbit 278 kilometers above the earth, inclined 53 degrees from the equator.
The 60 flat panel satellites disconnected from the rocket at 9:29 am EDT (1329 GMT) to complete SpaceX’s 70th consecutive successful mission. A camera on the upper tier showed the 60 satellites – each with a mass of about a quarter of a ton – floating freely from the Falcon 9 over the Indian Ocean.
“A great way to start a Sunday,” said Andy Tran, production manager at SpaceX, who hosted the company’s launch webcast on Sunday.
SpaceX said its two disguise ships caught both halves of the disguise from Sunday launch when the clams parachuted back to Earth. The net on one of the ships gave as the fairing settled into orbit, but SpaceX said the marine recovery team was fine.
With the launch of the satellites on Sunday, SpaceX put 835 Starlink broadband relay stations into orbit, including prototypes that will not be used for commercial purposes. This extends SpaceX’s lead in operating the largest fleet of satellites in orbit.
The new Starlink starship, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, was expected to deploy solar panels and activate krypton-ion thrusters to increase their altitude to approximately 550 kilometers, where they will provide broadband services.
SpaceX’s 60 latest Starlink Internet satellites were deployed from the Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX said ships in the Atlantic caught both halves of the rocket’s payload fairing, but the net on one of the ships gave way. The recovery team is fine, says SpaceX.https: //t.co/B5TzWEpreQ pic.twitter.com/L1tTgVyDED
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) October 18, 2020
SpaceX plans to operate an initial block of approximately 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbits 341 miles above Earth. Founded by billionaire Elon Musk, the company has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually deploy a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations on Ku-band, Ka-band and V-band frequencies.
There are also tentative plans for an even larger fleet of 30,000 additional Starlink satellites, but a network of this size has not been approved by the FCC.
SpaceX said the Starlink network, designed for low-latency Internet services, is “still in its infancy,” and engineers are continuing to test the system to collect latency data and speed tests. In a report to the FCC on October 13, SpaceX announced that it had begun beta testing the Starlink network in several US states, providing Internet connectivity to previously unserved students in rural areas.
On September 28, the Washington Department of Military announced that it was using Starlink’s Internet service as rescue workers and residents of Malden, Washington, were recovering from wildfire that destroyed much of the city.
Earlier this month, Washington government officials said the Hoh tribe had started using the Starlink service. SpaceX announced it recently installed Starlink ground terminals in an administration building and about 20 private homes on the Hoh Tribe reservation.
“We are very remote,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the Hoh tribe. “For the past eight years, I’ve felt like we paddled up the river with a spoon and achieved next to nothing when we brought the internet to reservations.
“It seemed like SpaceX appeared out of nowhere and catapulted us into the 21st century,” said Ashue on October 7th. “Our youngsters can teach online and participate in videos.” Tele-health will no longer be an issue, as will tele-mental health. “
In an FCC announcement last week, SpaceX officials wrote that the company has successfully launched and operated nearly 300 new Starlink starships since June without errors.
“SpaceX continues to invest in its rapid network deployment, including the launch of up to 120 satellites per month and the installation of extensive ground infrastructure across the country,” SpaceX told the FCC.
SpaceX appears to be well on its way to launching more than 120 satellites in October.
The company added 60 satellites to the Starlink network with a launch of Falcon 9 on October 6, and deployed another 60 spacecraft on Sunday. A Falcon 9 rocket is expected to lift off with another herd of Starlink satellites from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday at 12:36 p.m. EDT (1636 GMT).
Email the author.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.