CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is gearing up to launch its next batch of Starlink satellites into orbit for the company's ever-growing broadband internet megaconstellation and you can watch it live online.
On Tuesday (Aug. 18), the California-based rocket company will launch 58 Starlink satellites and three Planet Earth-imaging satellites for Planet on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Liftoff is scheduled for no earlier than 10:31 a.m. EDT (1431 GMT).
You can watch SpaceX's Starlink launch live here and on the Space.com homepage, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning about 15 minutes before liftoff. You'll also be able to watch the launch directly from SpaceX here.
SpaceX has had a banner summer so far. The company became the first private company to launch humans to the International Space Station when its Demo-2 mission lifted off on May 30, and returned its astronaut crew safely to Earth just over two months later on Aug. 2.
The company also successfully demonstrated that its latest Starship prototype could fly. On Aug. 4, the giant silvery tube took flight, soaring 500 feet (150 meters) above the Texas landscape. SpaceX also snagged a highly coveted national security launch contract, beating out rivals Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman. Now, the company is gearing up for its 13th launch of the year, lifting another set of its internet-beaming satellites into orbit.
As part of SpaceX's recently established rideshare program, this latest batch of Starlink satellites will be joined by other passengers — three small SkySat satellites from the California-based imaging company Planet. This is SpaceX's second joint mission with Planet, they previously launched another set of three small satellites back in June.
This upcoming launch marks the 91st flight for SpaceX's workhorse rocket, the Falcon 9. The launch will feature a veteran Falcon 9 rocket with a record five flights under its belt. The booster, designated B1049, previously launched three separate Starlink flights, as well as the Telstar 18 VANTAGE and Iridium-8 missions.
Flying previously flown boosters has become commonplace for SpaceX, but this launch is the first time one its fleet of flight-proven boosters will attempt to launch and land for the sixth time.
To date, the company has launched three boosters five times (each), with all but one landing successfully. (The one failed landing was thwarted by some residual cleaning fluid which caused the booster to experience an engine anomaly during flight. Subsequently, it missed its landing on the drone ship.)
Falcon 9’s booster supporting this mission previously launched Telstar 18 VANTAGE, Iridium-8, and three separate Starlink flights pic.twitter.com/Dwc7EXFiiLAugust 17, 2020
SpaceX is both the launch provider as well as the customer for its Starlink missions, and as such has kept up a rapid launch pace this summer, relying heavily on its fleet of flight-proven boosters. In fact, the Falcon 9 snagged the title of most-flown American rocket this year from its competitor, the Atlas V.
To date, SpaceX has successfully landed its first stage boosters 57 times. Now that the company has two fully operational drone ships — "Of Course I Still Love You" and "Just Read the Instructions" — in Florida, it's able to launch (and land) more rockets. The original East Coast ship, Of Course I Still Love You, is already at the recovery zone waiting for its turn to catch B1049 when it returns to Earth on Tuesday morning.
Targeting Tuesday, August 18 at 10:31 a.m. EDT for Falcon 9’s launch from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida of 58 Starlink satellites and 3 @planetlabs spacecraftAugust 17, 2020
With its Starlink megaconstellation, SpaceX hopes to provide high-speed internet access to users around the world. By using a small terminal (no larger than a laptop), users on the ground would be able to connect to the ever-growing constellation.
To that end, SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk has said that at the very minimum there would need to be 500-800 Starlink satellites in the sky for coverage to roll out. So far, his aerospace company has launched more than 600.
The weather on Tuesday morning is looking promising, with only a 20% chance of weather violation, according to forecasters at the 45th Weather Squadron. Temperatures in the area are supposed to be around 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) with some scattered clouds.
In addition to a planned booster recovery, SpaceX has already deployed its two fairing-catching ships: GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief which it aims to use to snag the payload fairings as they fall back to Earth. To date, Ms. Tree has snagged four fairings, with one being part of the first-ever double catch.
The fairing halves are outfitted with software that navigates them to the recovery zone, as well as a parachute system that lets them gently land in the ocean or the outstretched net of the company’s twin recovery vessels. Each fairing costs approximately $6 million, so SpaceX cuts down on launch costs by recovering and reusing this piece of hardware.
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