SpaceX prepared for historic tenth flight of a Falcon 9 as Starlink constellation expands

SpaceX is about for the historic tenth flight of a Falcon 9 rocket booster on the Starlink V1.0 L27 mission. The flight is about to launch from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral House Pressure Station on Sunday, 9 Could at 02:42 EDT / 06:42 UTC with an 80% optimistic launch climate forecast and a “low danger” prediction for restoration climate.

This mission will mark SpaceX’s 14th orbital launch in 2021, the eleventh Starlink flight this 12 months, and SpaceX’s second orbital launch and third flight total in lower than 5 days this month.

Starlink is SpaceX’s international web constellation which goals to ship quick, low latency, and cheap web to places the place floor primarily based web is both unreliable or utterly unavailable.

Starlink Constellation Progress 

SpaceX is presently filling the primary shell of Starlink situated in a 550 km round orbit with an inclination of 53 levels. As soon as full, the primary shell will encompass 1,584 operational satellites throughout 72 orbital planes with 22 satellites per aircraft. The shell presently accommodates roughly 1,456 operational working satellites, of which about 882 are of their closing orbit, which means that is the third-to-last Starlink launch earlier than all Starlinks for the the primary shell are in area. 

Nonetheless, it is going to take a couple of months for all the first shell satellites to achieve their operational orbits; as soon as that happens, Starlink will cowl roughly ~80% of Earth’s floor. 

As soon as all of the satellites within the first shell are in orbit, SpaceX will start constructing out extra orbital shells that will enhance bandwidth and obtain 100% international protection due to some satellites in polar orbits.

Total, the primary section of the Starlink constellation will consist of roughly 4,408 satellites, within the following shells:

Inclination (°) Orbital Altitude (km) Variety of Satellites
Shell 1 53.0 550 1,584
Shell 2 53.2 540 1,584
Shell 3 70.0 570 720
Shell 4 97.6 560 348
Shell 5 97.6 560 172
The 2 polar shells will each reside on the similar inclination and the identical altitude however can have a unique variety of planes for the Starlinks to reside in. Shell 4 can have six orbital planes with 58 satellites per aircraft whereas Shell 5 will consist of 4 orbital planes with 43 satellites in every.

In line with Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX will start conducting common Starlink launches into the polar shells starting in July. These missions are anticipated to launch from SLC-4 East at Vandenberg Air Pressure Base, California. It’s understood that these missions will coincide with the continued launch of Starlink satellites from Florida to decrease inclinations.

Historical past of Reuse

For this mission, SpaceX will use the Falcon 9 Block 5 booster B1051-10 with the “-10” signifying the booster’s tenth flight.

Booster B1051 is the second oldest operational first stage booster within the Falcon 9 fleet, debuting in prominence with the  uncrewed Demo-1 flight of Crew Dragon to the Worldwide House Station on 2 March 2019. Throughout its life, it has flown the next missions:

B1051’s missions Launch Date (UTC) Turnaround Time (Days)
SpaceX Demonstration Mission-1 2 March 2019 N/A
RADARSAT Constellation 12 June 2019 102
Starlink V1.0 L3 29 January 2020 231
Starlink V1.0 L6 22 April 2020 84
Starlink V1.0 L9 7 August 2020 107
Starlink V1.0 L13 18 October 2020 72
SXM-7 13 December 2020 56
Starlink V1.0 L16 20 January 2021 38
Starlink V1.0 L21 14 March 2021 53
Starlink V1.0 L27 9 Could 2021 (deliberate) 56 (deliberate)

This would be the first time an orbital class rocket booster will fly ten missions and marks a crucial reuse milestone for SpaceX.

On 30 March 2017, SpaceX reused a Falcon 9 booster for the primary time when SES-10 launched from LC-39A on the Kennedy House Heart beneath the facility of core B1021, which a 12 months prior grew to become the primary booster to land on SpaceX’s floating platform Of Course I Nonetheless Love You.

B1021 on Of Course I Nonetheless Love You after touchdown (Credit score: SpaceX)

In Could 2018, SpaceX debuted an upgraded Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9. This new model was to be able to carrying crewed missions and take classes realized from earlier blocks to lower turnaround and refurbishment time; the corporate set the bold purpose of reusing a booster 10 occasions with minimal refurbishment between every flight.

Because the first flight of Falcon 9 Block 5, SpaceX has transitioned from merely manufacturing Falcon 9 first phases to working a fleet of reusable rockets. Though the corporate nonetheless manufactures new boosters, they’re changing into more and more uncommon to see on the launch pad; in truth, not a single new first stage has launched thus far in 2021.

With much less demand for first stage boosters, SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California manufacturing facility now focuses extra on producing numerous second phases to assist an ever-increasing launch cadence.

Over time, clients have turn into an increasing number of snug flying on reused rockets. The USA House Pressure lately allowed key nationwide safety missions to fly on used {hardware}, and even NASA has accepted flown boosters on crewed missions, the primary of which launched a number of weeks in the past on the Crew-2 mission.

In December 2020, Sirius-XM grew to become the primary paying buyer to make use of a “high-flight quantity” booster when the SXM-7 satellite tv for pc efficiently launched on the seventh flight of booster B1051.

Due to their homegrown web constellation, SpaceX has been in a position to develop the envelope of recovering and reusing {hardware}. With an abundance of inner payloads to launch, the corporate has been in a position to scale back turnaround occasions and launch particular person boosters an increasing number of with out risking paying clients’ payloads.

That is evident within the variety of occasions a booster has flown earlier than every launch:

Flight 1 Flight 2 Flight 3 Flight 4 Flight 5 Flight 6 Flight 7 Flight 8 Flight 9 Flight 10
2017 13 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2018 10 12 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2019 7 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
2020 5 3 4 6 4 2 2 0 0 0
2021 0 1 0 1 2 3 2 2 2 1

SpaceX has additionally drastically decreased the turnaround occasions in 2021. Earlier than this 12 months, the quickest turnaround of a Falcon 9 was 51 days, between Starlink L11 and Starlink L14 — itself a world document.

In 2021, SpaceX has thus far crushed this document six occasions, with two turnaround occasions at simply 27 days. The typical turnaround time has additionally decreased by roughly 48% since 2020:

Yr Common Turnaround Time (Days)
2017 225.2
2018 224.5
2019 139.8
2020 113.8
2021 59.5

SpaceX has a number of extra missions within the coming weeks. First is the Starlink V1.0 L26 mission on 15 Could at 18:58 EDT / 22:58 UTC. That mission will use B1058-8 and launch from LC-39A. The mission could embrace two rideshare payloads: the Capella 5 and 6 satellites.

Subsequent is SiriusXM’s SXM-8 on 1 June at 00:25 EDT / 04:25 UTC from SLC-40. Two day later, SpaceX will launch the CRS-22 mission on 3 June utilizing booster B1067-1 (the primary new core to enter the fleet in 2021) launching from LC-39A.

The ultimate confirmed upcoming SpaceX mission is GPS-III SV05 on 17 June; it is going to use B1062-2 and launch from SLC-40.

The Launch

Previous to launch, no static hearth take a look at was performed, persevering with a development amongst SpaceX’s inner Starlink missions to skip the static hearth and proceed to launch.

Since Starlink V1.0 L8, 14 Falcon 9 flights haven’t required a static hearth take a look at attributable to each the reliability of flight-proven first stage boosters and the vast majority of these missions being inner Starlink flights.

For exterior missions, paying clients can request a static hearth earlier than launch.

Pre-launch countdown:

T- time to launch Occasion
T-38 minutes Launch Director confirms “go” for propellant loading
T-35 minutes Fueling begins with RP-1 kerosene to each phases & liquid oxygen to Stage 1 solely
T-17 minutes RP-1 kerosene load to Stage 2 full
T-16 minutes Liquid oxygen load into Stage 2 begins
T-7 minutes First stage Merlin engine chilldown begins
T-2 minutes 30 secs Fueling of the Falcon 9 for launch full
T-1min Falcon 9 takes management of countdown & pressurizes its propellant tanks for launch
T-45 secs Launch Director verifies “go” for launch
T-3 secs Merlin 1D engine ignition command despatched
T0 Liftoff

After lifting off, the automobile will carry out a pitch and roll maneuver to position itself onto the proper heading and into the right orientation to attain a 53 diploma orbit of the Earth. Falcon 9 will obtain MaxQ 1 minutes 12 seconds into flight, adopted by staging at T+2 minutes 36 seconds.

The second stage will then ignite as the primary stage orients itself for its tenth reentry and touchdown.

6 minutes into flight, the primary stage will then reignite its middle engine, E9, shortly adopted by two outer engines, E1 and E5. These three engines include TEA-TEB canisters, permitting them to be relit in flight, which is completely different from how the engines are ignited on the bottom earlier than liftoff. On the bottom, the TEA-TEB is offered by the launch pad’s floor service gear.

Shortly after, the primary stage will then gentle E9 once more to land on the Simply Learn the Directions droneship roughly 615 km downrange.

It will mark the 84th touchdown of a Falcon 9 booster and the twenty first touchdown try on Simply Learn the Directions. The droneship will then take the booster again to Port Canaveral to start a sequence of detailed inspections forward of rejoining the fleet.

In the meantime, the second stage will proceed to haul the Starlink stack into its preliminary parking orbit.  The payload fairings will separate 3 minutes 04 seconds into flight and parachute into the Atlantic the place the Shelia Bordelon will get well them from the water roughly 680 km downrange of the launch website. 

As with the primary stage, the payload fairing halves on this flight are being reused. Each fairing halves beforehand flew collectively on the GPS III SV04 mission 185 days in the past.

The second stage and Starlink payload will attain their preliminary parking orbit 8 minutes 47 seconds after launch. The second stage will then start to coast for about 37 minutes earlier than settling its propellant and reigniting its Mvac engine for one second. As soon as the second burn is full, the Falcon 9 can be in a 260 x 280 km orbit. 

Afterward, the second stage will start to spin in preparation for Starlink deployment. The 60 satellites will then deploy from the second stage and drift aside because of the distinction in angular momentum imparted by the spinning rocket stage.

The 60 satellites will then start to maneuver to achieve their 550 km operational orbits. 

(Lead picture credit score: SpaceX)

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