SpaceX teams in Florida and California are preparing for three launch pad missions in three days, starting Friday with a launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with a reusable Falcon 9 booster flying for the 13th time.
Friday’s flight will deploy 53 Starlink internet satellites, followed by Saturday’s launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base with a German military radar observation satellite, and then another mission from Cape Canaveral early Sunday with a commercial spacecraft to transmit data and messages.
Assuming weather and technical issues don’t delay any of the missions, the rapid-fire schedule would represent the fastest sequence of flights by SpaceX since the company’s founding.
The missions this weekend will be the 24th, 25th and 26th launches of the Falcon 9 rockets this year. That would match the total number of Falcon 9 SpaceX launches completed in 2020. Last year, SpaceX launched 31 Falcon 9 missions, and the company could approach 60 Falcon 9 missions this year.
SpaceX aims to fly once every five days from one of its active Falcon launch pads.
To save time, the company no longer conducts firing trials before most of its launches, after seeing the good performance of the reusable booster after missions. Engineers are also working to simplify refurbishment and inspections of reinforcements between flights, according to a report published this week by Aviation Week & Space Technology.
According to Aviation Week, SpaceX has qualified Falcon 9’s reusable boosters for at least 15 missions, up from the 10-mission goal the company announced when it debuted its Block 5 Booster — the latest version of the Falcon 9 — in 2018.
The magazine reports that SpaceX has developed boosted components through vibration testing to quadruple the fatigue life of what they would experience during more than 15 flights, giving engineers confidence that the rockets will continue to fly successfully.
Another Starlink web publishing flight for SpaceX is next on the company’s schedule. A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off from Platform 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 12:08 p.m. EDT (1608 GMT) Friday with 53 other broadband relay satellites, bringing the total number of Starlink launched to More than 2700.
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The Falcon 9 booster flying on the Starlink mission – tail number B1060 – has previously flown 12 times. It was first launched on June 30, 2020, with the launch of the US Space Force’s GPS navigation satellite. After launching for the 13th time on Friday, the booster craft will land aboard a SpaceX drone ship northeast of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean.
Friday’s weather forecast calls for a 90% chance of favorable conditions to take off from the 39A cushion.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will target a transfer orbit between 144 miles and 209 miles in altitude (232 x 337 kilometers). 53 flat-packed satellites are expected to be deployed from the upper stage of Falcon 9 about 15 minutes after liftoff.
Two more Falcon 9 rockets are scheduled to launch later this weekend.
A German Airbus-made military radar surveillance satellite Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch after 10 a.m. PT (7 a.m. PT; 1400 GMT) Saturday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. This mission will use the Falcon’s booster in her third fight. The first stage will return to Vandenberg for a landfall after sending the four-tonne SARah 1 radar imaging satellite into orbit.
Another Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off from Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station around 12:30 a.m. EDT (0430 GMT) Sunday with a backup satellite for GlobalStar’s commercial messaging and data relay constellation. The satellite, built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy, will be launched on a vehicle that will fly for the ninth time. The first stage will return to Earth to land aboard an unmanned ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
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