With a Falcon 9 rocket launch on Friday, SpaceX added another 57 satellites to the broadband Starlink fleet and deployed a pair of commercial reconnaissance satellites to BlackSky, ending a busy week that began with the return of the SpaceX of two astronauts. of NASA on Earth and the first low-altitude test flight of Starship’s next-generation vehicle.
59 commercial satellites were launched at 1:12:05 a.m. EDT (0512: 05 GMT) on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from the 39A cushion at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Nine Merlin 1D engines sparked to life with a deep rumble to launch the 229-foot-long (70-meter) rocket into the sky with 1.7 million pounds of propulsion. After attempting to line up with a trajectory northeast of the Florida Coast Space, the Falcon 9 climbed into the stratosphere tracking a brilliant orange exhaust plume before shutting down its first phase engines two and a half minutes after ascent.
Seconds later, the first-phase propellant left the second-stage Falcon 9 to begin a descent toward the SpaceX unmanned spacecraft parked in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Cape Canaallel.
The Merlin engine in the second phase ignited twice to maneuver the Starlink and BlackSky satellites in a near-circular orbit nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the ground. Meanwhile, the first-phase booster Falcon 9 flew to a propulsion landing on the SpaceX rocket recovery spacecraft, a football-sized football platform, positioned nearly 400 miles (about 630 kilometers) below the area from the Kennedy Space Center.
Two BlackSky Earth imagery satellites, each weighing in at about 121 pounds (55 kilograms), placed from the top of the Starlink spacecraft for more than an hour on a mission. BlackSky booked the launch for its satellites through Spaceflight, a Seattle-based rideshare intermediary, utilizing room in the Falcon 9 rocket cargo cargo room made available by SpaceX.
Read our previous descent story on BlackSky and SpaceX redesign launch service offerings.
BlackSky is deploying a fleet of Earth observation satellites designed to monitor changes across the Earth’s surface, feeding near real-time geospatial intelligence data to governments and corporate clients. The two microsatellites in Friday’s mission are designated Global 7 and Global 8, but they are actually the fifth and sixth operational satellites in the BlackSky fleet, for which the company could eventually count more than 50 satellites, depending on customer request.
BlackSky satellites were built by LeoStella, a joint venture between Spaceflight Industries and Thales Alenia Space, a leading European satellite manufacturer. The LeoStella manufacturing plant is located in Tukwila, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.
Satellites have electrothermal propulsion systems that use water as propellants. Each of the current generations of the BlackSky Global spacecraft can capture up to 1,000 color images per day, with a resolution of about 3 feet (1 meter).
With the Blizzard loads away, the upper phase of the Falcon 9 began for the release of 57 Starlink satellites at 02:45 EDT (0645 GMT). Live video beamed back to Earth by the Falcon 9 rocket showed flat-panel satellites flying without the top rung as they climbed nearly 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean near Baja California.
All 57 Starlink broadband satellites launched this morning from the Kennedy Space Center have been successfully separated from their Falcon 9 rocket into orbit.
This brings the total number of Starlinks launched since May 2019 to 595 satellites. https://t.co/T8cU2Vl2bf pic.twitter.com/xp8EJwD69d
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) August 7, 2020
SpaceX announced success, completing the 90th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010, and the 13th launch of the Falcon 9 of the year. It was also the 57th time SpaceX has recovered a first-stage Falcon regenerative amplifier, and marked the fifth flight of the designated B1051 amplifier.
The launch early Friday came less than five days after the return of the Space Cre’s Dragon spacecraft to Earth with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, completing the spacecraft’s first mission with the crew on board. The test flight sets the stage for NASA certification of the Crew Dragon for regular crew rotation flights at the International Space Station.
On Tuesday, SpaceX conducted a “hop” altitude test of a prototype of the company’s next-generation Starship space transport vehicle.
SpaceX’s Starlink network was created to provide low-speed, high-speed Internet service worldwide. With Friday’s mission, SpaceX has launched 595 flat-panel Starlink spacecraft since the launch of the full-scale orbital network in May 2019, making it the company that owns the largest satellite fleet in the world.
Each of the flat panel satellites weighs about a quarter of a ton, and were built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington. Once in orbit, they will set up solar panels to start generating electricity, then activate their krypton ion booster to raise their altitude to about 341 miles, or 550 kilometers.
SpaceX says it needs 24 releases to secure Starlink Internet coverage over almost the entire populated world, and 12 releases could allow coverage for higher latitude regions, such as Canada and the northern United States.
Friday launch will be the 10th mission to bring Starlink satellites into orbit, but the Starlink spacecraft placed on the network’s first dedicated launch were created to demonstrate satellite performance and payload. SpaceX has not said whether any of those satellites could be included in the operating fleet.
The Falcon 9 rocket can lift up to 60 Starlink satellites – each weighing about a quarter of a tonne – in a single Falcon 9 launch. But secondary launch launches, such as the new BlackSky satellites, can hold fewer Starlinks. to allow the passenger room to be moved on the rocket.
The initial phase of the Starlink network will count 1,584 satellites, according to SpaceX regulatory records with the Federal Communications Commission. But SpaceX plans to launch thousands more satellites, depending on market demand, and the company has regulatory approval from the FCC to operate up to 12,000 Starlink relay nodes in low Earth orbit.
Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, says the Starlink network could earn revenue to fund the company’s ambition for interplanetary space travel, and eventually create a human solution on Mars.
SpaceX fans kneeling through coding on the Starlink website last month found images of a prototype version of antenna users they will use to connect to the Internet.
UFO in Starlink user terminal with a stick, looks nice pic.twitter.com/1aog0FS1jq
– Viv (@flcnhvy) July 14, 2020
Musk responded to the tweet, writing the Starlink ground terminal “there are motors that are self-orienting for optimal viewing angle. No expert installer required.”
SpaceX has not released pricing information for the Starlink service.
SpaceX says it will soon begin “beta testing” using the Starlink network. The company is collecting information and email addresses from prospective customers, and SpaceX says it will provide updates on Starlink news and service availability for subscribers.
Beta testing is expected to begin for users living at greater latitudes – such as the northern United States and southern Canada – where the partially complete Starlink satellite fleet can provide a more consistent service. SpaceX will ship a Starlink kit, including a small antenna, router and other devices to people selected for beta testing.
Astronomers have raised concerns about the brightness of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites and other companies planning to launch a large number of broadband satellites into Earth’s low orbit.
Starlink satellites are brighter than expected, and are visible on trains immediately after each launch, before spreading and fading as they travel higher above the Earth.
SpaceX introduced a darker layer on a Starlink satellite launched in January in an effort to reduce the amount of sunlight the spacecraft reflects down to Earth. This provided an improvement, but not enough for ultra-sensitive observers like the US government-funded Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile, which will collect images from all over the sky to study distant galaxies, stars and potentially search for asteroids. dangerous near Earth.
SpaceX launched a satellite on June 3 with a new sunlight unfolding to block sunlight from reaching bright surfaces on spaceships, such as its antennas. SpaceX says all Starlink satellites starting with the spacecraft launched Friday will hold Sundays.
Coupled with changes in the way satellites orient themselves when they are at lower altitudes immediately after launch, solar wires can mitigate the most serious astronomical impacts from the Starlink network, and eliminate Starlink satellites from bare vision once they reach 341 – operating orbit with miles height.
The 3,200-megapixel Vera Rubin Observatory camera will begin astronomical studies in 2022. The imagedo image will cover a region of the sky the size of 40 full moons, and many of the images will include stripes of light left by satellites from the Starlink network , and potentially other satellite stars.
The worst influences will come after dusk and before dawn. This is a day when astronomers want to look for asteroids.
Astronomers on the Vera Rubin Observatory team say SpaceX has been working with them since last year in an effort to reduce the impact of the Starlink network on their science program. Astronomers lit up an Vera Rubin image detector in a test to see how it would respond to the passage of a satellite as bright as a Starlink. They found that leaving behind the satellite was not just a single trail, but “ghost” trails away from the ship’s path.
Scientists from the Vera Rubin Observatory said ghost artifacts could be removed with software if Starlink satellites are darker than the 7th magnitude. Observations on the Starlink ship with the darkest gear show that the change fades the satellite by about 6.1 degrees, somewhat frightened by the request of Vera Rubin.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.