SpaceX Continues Aggressive East Coast Starlink Launch Campaign

SpaceX’s fourth Falcon 9 mission of August springs from SLC-40 at 3:21 p.m. EDT Friday. Photo Credit: SpaceX

A nine-times-flown Falcon 9 booster roared aloft Friday afternoon, kicking off SpaceX’s fourth launch of August and delivering dozens more Starlink internet communications satellites into low-Earth orbit. Liftoff of the B1062 core—first flown nearly two years ago—took place from storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., at 3:21 p.m. EDT for the 23rd dedicated Starlink mission of the year.

Video Credit: AmericaSpace

A few minutes after launch, B1062 returned to a smooth touchdown on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “A Shortfall of Gravitas”.

But a glance at the weather outlook for Friday and the weekend offered scant chance for an on-time launch, with a high likelihood of showers and storms in the late afternoon and early evening.

A gloomy weather outlook ultimately saw Mother Nature smile on today’s launch. Photo Credit: SpaceX

“For the primary launch day on Friday, the initial development of the sea breeze is expected to occur just before the launch window, jump-starting afternoon showers and storms,” noted the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Space Force Base.

Another batch of Starlink satellites launches from Pad 40 this afternoon, as viewed from Titusville. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert

“Ongoing activity will likely be just inland, with the potential for some drifting back towards the launch site,” it was added. “The main threats will be cumulus clouds and lightning associated with any activity.”

The B1062 core stage (left) begins its descent back to Earth, as the Starlink stack is exposed to the space environment for the first time. Photo Credit: SpaceX

All told, this created a rather glum picture, with a 40-percent probability of acceptable conditions on Friday. That was set to improve only to 60 percent by Saturday.

Notwithstanding Mother Nature’s poor promise, SpaceX pressed smartly into preparations for its fourth mission of August, its 37th Falcon 9 flight of 2022 and its fifth consecutive month to feature at least four launches. In the last two weeks alone, the Hawthorne, Calif.-headquartered launch services provider has despatched South Korea’s first mission to the Moon and a pair of Starlink batches from the East and West Coasts.

B1062 plunges like a finely-trained ballet dancer to a touchdown on the deck of ASOG. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The booster for Friday’s mission, B1062, entered service in November 2020 when she lifted the fourth Block III Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation and timing satellite on the first leg of its trek to Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) on behalf of the U.S. Space Force. And seven months later in June 2021, she launched the fifth Block III GPS.

Just last September, B1062 carried Dragon Resilience uphill, crewed by Shift4Payments billionaire Jared “Rook” Isaacman and his Inspiration4 crewmates Sian Proctor, Hayley Arceneaux and Chris Sembroski on the first all-civilian human orbital spaceflight.

B1062 launches the GPS III-05 mission to Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) for the U.S. Space Force in June 2021. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

And between January 2022 and today, B1062 flew six more times, lifting 208 Starlinks, Egypt’s Nilesat-301 geostationary communications satellite and Dragon Endeavour with Ax-1 crewmen Mike Lopez-Alegria, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe on the first all-private visit to the International Space Station (ISS).

Back in late April, B1062 also logged a new Falcon 9 record of just 21 days between two launches by the same orbital-class booster. With today’s launch, she flies again only 26 days since her most recent flight in late July.

Inspiration4 crew members (from left) Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor inspect the B1062 core ahead of their historic all-civilian orbital mission last September. Photo Credit: SpaceX

In readiness for Friday afternoon’s launch, the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” put to sea out of Port Canaveral earlier this week, bound for a position about 390 miles (630 kilometers) offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

Today’s recovery of B1062 marked ASOG’s 15th successful recovery of a Falcon 9 this year and its 19th overall since August 2021.

Video Credit: AmericaSpace

B1062 took flight at 3:21 p.m. EDT Friday, her nine Merlin 1D+ engines powering the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 smoothly uphill with over 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kilograms) of thrust. The core stage separated at 2.5 minutes into the flight, pirouetting to a touchdown on ASOG about six minutes later.

That left the Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine of the Falcon 9’s second stage to execute a customary, six-minute “burn” to deliver the 53-strong Starlink stack into orbit. Today’s satellites were destined for emplacement into a 350-mile (560-kilometer) orbit, inclined 53.2 degrees to the equator.

File photo of a Starlink “stack”, as it appeared before encapsulation in the Falcon 9 payload fairing. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Starlink’s progress as an internet provider on the world stage has advanced in leaps and bounds in 2022, with availability expanded to Luxembourg, the Dominican Republic and Moldova in July alone. That brings to 15 the number of nations which have adopted Starlink services since the start of the year. And since the fall of 2020, regulatory approval for Starlink has been granted for a total of 36 countries and 41 markets across North and South America, Europe and Oceania. 

Yet August is still barely half-done and two more Starlink-laden Falcon 9s may yet rise from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., before month’s end. If SpaceX achieves this target, August may close as only the third month on record to see as many as six Falcon 9 launches.

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