This Wednesday (7), SpaceX took another step forward in the expansion of the Starlink satellite megaconstellation. With the Falcon 9 rocket, the company launched another wave of 60 satellites into orbit, which join others and add up to 1,400 already launched. Then, the propeller successfully returned to land on the vessel “Of Course I Still Love You”.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched at 1:34 pm, Brasília time, from the base in Cape Canaveral. After launching, the rocket went in a northeast direction, facing an orbit with a 53º inclination. After a few minutes, the nine Merlin engines from the first stage were deactivated, followed by the separation of the stages; then, the second stage of the rocket activated its engine to go into space.
About six minutes later, the first stage started the maneuver to prepare for re-entry, and reactivated three engines to reduce speed. After a few minutes, the booster reactivated a single engine and successfully landed on the vessel “Of Course I Still Love You”, which took him to the mark of seven launches and landings. Now, the veteran propeller will undergo inspections and maintenance to fly again.
Today’s launch B1058 booster was used in the Demo-2 mission, becoming the first SpaceX rocket to take a crew into space – which, in this case, was the pair of astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who went with the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. Launched last year, that was the first mission on which astronauts departed from American soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. Then, the same booster was used in other missions, such as launching of South American communication satellites. Koreans and a Dragon cargo ship, also bound for the space station.
With today’s flight, the Falcon 9 rocket reached the 113th flight mark, with the reusable propellant fulfilling its 59th mission. In addition, the launch also marks SpaceX’s fifth successful landing this year – in February, a propeller was lost and broke the sequence of 20 successful recoveries. At the time, there was a failure that prevented the landing of the vessel, but the primary objective of the mission, which was to bring satellites into orbit, was accomplished.
While the first stage landed, the second deactivated its engine and entered the initial stationary orbit. Then, at the end of a new engine burn, the rocket began to prepare to launch the Starlink satellites, and about 15 minutes later, the set of 60 units was separated from the second stage. Now, they will perform some maneuvers to go to operational orbit, at 550 km altitude.
Today’s launch led SpaceX to the mark of more than 1,400 satellites in orbit, with some already out of operation. Even so, the quantity almost fulfills the planned initial amount, and the company is approved to launch thousands more units. The first launch of the Starlink satellites took place in 2019 and, since then, SpaceX has continued to expand the megaconstellation, which will be able to provide high-speed internet to the whole world – even in rural and remote regions.
Source: Space.com, NASA Spaceflight
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