SpaceX Launches June’s Sixth Falcon 9 Mission, Deploys 1,000th Starlink of Year

In a launch previously denied to her sister B1073, the 11-times-used B1078 rises atop a pillar of flame at 1:15 p.m. EDT Sunday for the sixth Falcon 9 mission of June. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Despite iffy weather odds, SpaceX threaded the needle with a Starlink-laden mission out of storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Sunday evening, as it pushed the total number of these flat-packed internet communications satellites orbited since the start of 2024 to just past 1,000. The veteran B1078 booster—flying for her 11th time in a little more than a year—took flight at 1:15 p.m. EDT, kicking off the sixth Falcon 9 launch of June and beginning an anticipated three-day triple-header of missions that will also see another Starlink flight out of Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., and the return of the mammoth Falcon Heavy.

B1078 roars aloft on her quickest turnaround between missions so far, only 26 days flight-to-flight. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

But Florida’s weather initially seemed far from conducive, pledging no higher than 50-50 odds (and as low as just 20-percent favorability) for B1078 to go, with potential violations of the Cumulus Cloud Rule, Surface Electric Fields Rule and Anvil Cloud Rule. With deep tropical moisture entrenched across the Florida peninsula, noted the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Space Force Base, came a high likelihood of showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening hours.

However, against many odds the weather outlook brightened as teams began loading the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 with liquid oxygen and a highly refined form of rocket-grade kerosene (known as “RP-1”) shortly after 12:30 p.m. EDT. “All systems looking good,” tweeted SpaceX. “Weather is currently 70-percent favorable.”

B1078’s nine Merlin 1D+ engines roar alive at 1:15 p.m. EDT. Photo Credit: SpaceX

This particular mission has been waiting in the wings for almost two weeks, having originally been earmarked to ride the B1073 booster—already a 15-launch veteran—on 12 June. However, after falling foul to a pair of back-to-back weather scrubs, the mission finally suffered a nail-biting pad abort at T-0 on 14 June and SpaceX elected to temporarily set B1073 aside for inspections and reassigned B1078 in her stead.

It would be B1078’s fifth mission of 2024 and the 11th of her career. And with this unexpected reassignment, she has been rotated in only three and a half weeks since her most recent flight in late May, marking this as her quickest-yet turnaround: only 26 days.

B1078 launches Crew-6 on her first flight in March. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

She first sprang onto SpaceX’s scene in March of last year to loft Dragon Endeavour and her Crew-6 quartet of NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, Russian cosmonaut Andrei Fedyayev and Sultan Al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for their six-month Expedition 68/69 increment to the International Space Station (ISS).Since then (and including tonight’s mission), she also lifted eight Starlink batches, a pair of O3b mPOWER broadband satellites and the Space Force’s highly secretive USSF-124 payload of six discrete spacecraft—two Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) satellites for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the final four Tranche 0 Transport and Tracking Layer (TTL) satellites for the Space Development Agency (SDA)—into orbit.

Following tonight’s launch, B1078 returned eight minutes later to alight on the deck of the East Coast-based Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “A Shortfall of Gravitas”, situated offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, the Falcon 9’s second stage continued the uphill boost and the 22-strong Starlink stack was deployed at 52 minutes and 44 seconds into the flight, bringing to 1,005 the total number of these flat-packed satellites launched in 45 “batches” since the start of the year. More than 6,600 Starlinks have been emplaced into orbit since May 2019

B1078 turns night into day across the Space Coast, as Dragon Endeavour and her crew take aim on the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

As a network, Starlink enables high-speed and low-latency internet provision to over 70 sovereign nations and international markets in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa. In the month of May alone, Starlink connectivity became available in Uruguay, Indonesia and Fiji, with Sierra Leone joining the network in June, bringing to 79 the total number of sovereign nations or regions to be in full receipt of coverage.

The downsized V2 Mini Starlinks, first flown in February of last year, boast three to four times greater “usable” bandwidth than earlier Starlink iterations. “V2 Minis include key technologies—such as more powerful phased-array antennas and the use of E-Band for backhaul—which will allow Starlink to provide 4x more capacity per satellite than earlier iterations,” SpaceX explained. “Among other enhancements, V2 Minis are equipped with new argon Hall thrusters for on-orbit maneuvering.”

B1078 launches a Starlink stack of satellites in early June of last year. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

And since January 2024, SpaceX has also flown multiple “Direct-to-Cell” Starlinks to permit mobile network providers to offer “seamless global access to texting, calling and browsing” whether “on land, lakes or coastal waters”, without the need to change hardware or firmware. The Direct-to-Cell satellites—13 of which will be aboard B1075 for tomorrow’s Vandenberg launch—possess advanced modems which serve as a cellphone tower in space to eliminate dead zones with network integration similar to a standard roaming partner, according to SpaceX.

Florida-based intercity operator Brightline adopted Starlink on its trains in 2023, the first passenger rail service in the world to do so. Additionally, El Salvador’s Ministry of Education has begun integrating Starlink capability into its schools to help close the digital divide between urban and remote rural communities and 50 Rwandan schools are now connected via Starlink’s high-speed internet service. As of May, Starlink reportedly had about three million registered subscribers or customers worldwide.

The GOES-U satellite is encapsulated within the payload fairing halves of the Falcon Heavy last week. Photo Credit: NASA

Up next from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg is ten-times-flown B1075, laden with another 20 Starlinks, including 13 with Direct-to-Cell functionality. That mission is targeting an expansive “window” that opens at 8:45 p.m. PDT Sunday.

And beyond that, the first flight of the triple-barreled Falcon Heavy of 2024 is targeting a sunset launch from historic Pad 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) during a two-hour window from 5:16 p.m. EDT Tuesday. Aboard the Heavy for the tenth mission of its career is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-led Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-U), destined for insertion to conduct weather forecasting, storm tracking and meteorological research with a powerful interdisciplinary payload of seven scientific instruments.

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