Home / Science / The SpaceX drone ship heads out to sea for Falcon 9’s upcoming Starlink launch and landing

The SpaceX drone ship heads out to sea for Falcon 9’s upcoming Starlink launch and landing



An upgraded SpaceX drone ship is headed approximately 630 kilometers (~ 390 miles) into the Atlantic Ocean to support the Falcon 9’s upcoming Starlink launch and landing.

The eleventh launch of SpaceX Starlink this year alone, the mission will be the twelfth operational launch (v1.0) and thirteenth Starlink launch overall, representing together approximately 700 operational satellites in orbit. According to a May 2020 interview with SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell, those public beta tests can only begin after 14 Starlink launches are completed, while recent FCC documents show that SpaceX is only considering satellites. v1.0 as part of the operational constellation. In other words, if successful, Starlink-1

2 would leave SpaceX just two launches from a constellation large enough – or nearly so – to begin beta testing of the public internet service.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 rocket assigned to the mission will be on the verge of breaking SpaceX’s booster reuse record, currently set at 51 days between launches by the same booster assigned to Starlink-12.

Falcon 9 B1058 – pictured here on July 20 – has been assigned to Starlink-12. (SpaceX)

Known as Falcon booster 9 B1058, the SpaceX rocket became the first US vehicle to launch astronauts since 2011, sending NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft. After a successful launch on May 30, the spacecraft docked to the ISS about two days later and spent more than two months in orbit before returning to Earth in early August.

Meanwhile, the B1058 booster kept busy as the spacecraft it launched was put through its paces in orbit. On July 20, the rocket broke SpaceX’s turnaround record when it launched South Korea’s ANASIS II communications satellite, just 51 days after supporting Crew Dragon’s inaugural astronaut launch. While that 51-day turnaround broke SpaceX’s previous record of 62 days, it also set a much higher record, ousting NASA’s Space Shuttle to become the fastest reusable orbital-class rocket ever built.

(Richard Angle)
The Booster Falcon 9 B1058 is the first US rocket to launch astronauts in a decade. (SpaceX)

As of now, the Falcon 9 B1058 is expected to launch Starlink-12 no earlier than (NET) 14:17 EDT (UTC-4) on Thursday 17 September. Barring delays, this would represent a 59-day turnaround since the booster’s second record launch. If Starlink-12 is launched by September 19, B1058 will be the proud holder of SpaceX’s first and second place records and will technically be flown three times in ~ 110 days.

After Starlink-12, SpaceX is aiming to launch Starlink-13 at the end of September and has scheduled its third US military GPS III launch – with the new Falcon 9 booster B1062 – no earlier than (NET) September 30. While unlikely, if everything stays on schedule, September 2020 could be the first of four launches in SpaceX history.

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