SpaceX launched 60 more Starlink Internet platforms into orbit on Sunday, as the company intensifies network testing in Washington state and advertises a series of nearly 300 satellites launched since June without a spacecraft failure.
Nine Merlin 1D engines ignited and powered the Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center ramp 39A in Florida at 8:25:57 EDT (1225:57 GMT) on Sunday, marking the 14th Falcon 9 mission dedicated to satellite deployment. for SpaceX Starlink broadband network.
The kerosene-powered engines accelerated to produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust, driving the Falcon 9 rocket northeast from Florida’s Space Coast. Two and a half minutes later, the first booster stage shut off the engines and pulled apart to begin descending towards the SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.
The single Merlin engine of the second stage fired to continue the mission in orbit, and the two-piece nose cover of the Falcon 9 threw overboard for nearly three and a half minutes during the flight.
The 15-story first stage nailed its landing on SpaceX’s drone ship about 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral. It was the sixth journey to space and back for this particular booster – designated B1051 – after its debut on an unmanned test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in March 2019.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.
This marks the 62nd recovery of a Falcon rocket and the sixth landing for this leg.
Continuous coverage: 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 brought the 60 Starlink Internet satellites into preliminary orbit. The upper-stage engine subsequently re-ignited to maneuver the payloads in a nearly circular orbit 172 miles (278 kilometers) above the Earth, with an inclination of 53 degrees from the equator.
The 60 flat-screen satellites separated from the rocket at 9:29 am EDT (1329 GMT) to conclude SpaceX’s 70th consecutive mission. A camera on the upper stage showed the 60 satellites – each with a mass of about a quarter tonne – flying free from the Falcon 9 over the Indian Ocean.
“Great way to start a Sunday,” said Andy Tran, a production supervisor at SpaceX who hosted the company’s launch webcast on Sunday.
SpaceX said its two fairing recovery ships captured both halves of the fairing from Sunday’s launch as the shells returned to Earth under parachutes. The net on one of the ships gave way when the fairing entered orbit, but SpaceX said its ocean recovery team was fine.
With the satellites launched on Sunday, SpaceX has put 835 Starlink broadband relay stations into orbit, including prototypes that will not be used for commercial service. This extends SpaceX’s advantage in operating the largest fleet of satellites in orbit.
The new Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, was supposed to open the solar panels and activate the krypton ion thrusters to begin increasing their altitude to approximately 341 miles (550 kilometers), where they will begin providing services to broadband connection.
SpaceX’s 60 most recent Internet Starlink satellites were deployed by the Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX says ships in the Atlantic captured both halves of the rocket’s payload fairing, but the net on one of the ships gave way. The recovery team is fine, SpaceX says. Http://t.co/B5TzWEpreQ pic.twitter.com/L1tTgVyDED
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) October 18, 2020
SpaceX plans to manage an initial block of approximately 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbit 341 miles above Earth. The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to field a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations operating in the Ku-band, Ka-band and V-band frequencies.
There are also preliminary plans for an even larger fleet of 30,000 additional Starlink satellites, but a network of that size has not been cleared by the FCC.
SpaceX says the Starlink network, designed for low-latency Internet service, is “still in its early stages” and engineers continue to test the system to collect latency data and speed tests. In a filing with the FCC dated Oct.13, SpaceX claimed to have initiated beta testing of the Starlink network in several US states and to provide Internet connectivity to previously unserved students in rural areas.
On September 28, the Washington Military Department announced that it was using the Starlink Internet service as emergency responders and residents of Malden, Washington, to recover from a fire that destroyed much of the city.
Earlier this month, Washington government officials said the Hoh tribe was starting to use the Starlink service. SpaceX said it recently installed Starlink ground terminals on an administration building and about 20 private homes on the Hoh Tribe Reservation.
“We are very far,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, vice president of the Hoh tribe. “For the past eight years, I’ve felt like we’ve paddled the river with a spoon and hardly got anywhere with internet connection on booking.
“It seemed out of nowhere, SpaceX just arrived and catapulted us into the 21st century,” Ashue said on Oct.7. “Our young people are able to do online education, participate in videos. Tele-health will no longer be a problem, as well as tele-mental health”.
In an FCC statement last week, SpaceX reps wrote that the company had successfully launched and operated nearly 300 new Starlink spacecraft since June without any failure.
“SpaceX continues to invest in its rapid network deployment, including launching as many as 120 satellites per month and installing extensive ground infrastructure across the country,” SpaceX told the FCC.
SpaceX appears to be able to launch more than 120 satellites in October.
The company added 60 satellites to the Starlink network with the launch of a Falcon 9 on October 6, and mounted 60 more spacecraft on Sunday. A Falcon 9 rocket is tentatively scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Pad 40 at 12:36 pm. EDT (1636 GMT) Wednesday with another flock of Starlink satellites.
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