A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Saturday from Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX successfully deployed 60 Internet satellites from Starlink into orbit on Saturday, continuing a record launch pace as engineers assessed concern about Falcon 9 rocket engines that delayed other missions, including the crew’s next trip to the International Space Station.

The 60th Starlink satellite took off from Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:31:34 a.m. EDT (1531:34 GMT) on Saturday. The mission was postponed from Thursday to allow engineers time to assess the camera problem in the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Nine Merlin 1D kerosene-fueled engines launched a 229-foot (70 m) launcher into the sky on a northeast trajectory from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage of the missile stopped its engines, two and a half minutes apart from the mission, and began a controlled landing with a precision landing on a parked floating platform 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of the launch site.

The landing concluded the third flight into space and back for a Falcon 9 reusable booster – designated B1060 – and the landing occurred moments before the missile’s upper stage delivered 60 Starlink satellites into a primary parking orbit.

SpaceX did not attempt to catch the two-piece Falcon 9 ship when it fell to the ground under parachutes. The conical nose hull damaged a net on one of SpaceX’s gift recovery ships in the company’s latest launch on October 18th.

Instead, SpaceX dispatched one of the boats from its fleet to restore lean hulls from the Atlantic for inspections, refurbishment and potential use on a future voyage.

After coasts across the Atlantic, Europe and the Middle East, the Falcon 9 upper stage briefly re-ignited its single engine at T + plus 44 minutes to inject the Starlink satellites into a semi-circular orbit at an altitude of about 170 miles (275 km)) at an inclination of 53 ° to the equator. .

All 60 satellites, which were flat packed on top of the Falcon 9 launch rocket, separated from the upper stage at 12:34 PM EST (1634 GMT). A live video of the missile showed the flat-Earth satellite retreating from view as it flew south of Tasmania.

The satellites, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, were expected to launch energy-generating solar arrays and launch their krypton ion drives to begin raising their orbits to an operational altitude of 341 miles (550 km), where they would join more than 800. Other Starlink relay stations to send broadband Internet signals across most of the inhabited world.

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SpaceX plans to operate an initial mass of about 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbits 341 miles above Earth. The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has won regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to introduce a fleet of eventually up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations operating in the Ku-band, Ka-band and V frequencies.

There are also initial plans for a fleet of more than 30,000 additional Starlink satellites, but a network of this size has not been authorized by the FCC.

SpaceX says the Starlink network – which is designed for low-latency internet service – is still in its infancy, and engineers are continuing to test the system to collect latency data and speed tests. In a file with the Federal Communications Commission on October 13, SpaceX said it has begun a pilot test of the Starlink network in multiple US states, providing an internet connection for students who have not previously received service in rural areas.

On September 28, the Washington Military Department announced that it was using the Starlink Internet service as emergency responders and residents of Malden, Washington, to recover from a wildfire that destroyed much of the city.

Earlier this month, Washington government officials said the Huo Tribe had started using the Starlink service. SpaceX said it recently installed Starlink ground stations in an office building and about 20 private homes at Hoh Tribe Reservation.

A catalog of Starlink satellites held by Jonathan McDowell, a well-respected astronomer who tracks global spaceflight activity, indicated that 53 Starlink satellites have been removed from orbit since their launch, primarily to test prototypes launched last year. According to McDowell, two more satellites have failed and 20 more have stopped maneuvering, apparently leaving about 820 spacecraft in operation.

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Since October 6, SpaceX has launched 180 Starlink satellites into orbit on three missions dedicated to Falcon 9 missiles. That’s more satellites than the entire group operated by Planet, which has the second-largest fleet of spacecraft in orbit.

A company spokesperson said that as of this week, Planet has about 150 active SkySat and Dove satellites to photograph Earth in its fleet.

SpaceX continues to launch Starlink while a motor issue is delaying other missions

Three Starlink missions were launched on Falcon 9 rockets this month as SpaceX delayed further launches to study an issue with Merlin engines foiling the Falcon 9 countdown on October 2 with the US military GPS navigation satellite.

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, tweeted after the miscarriage that the countdown stopped at a T-minus two seconds after an “unexpected pressure surge in the gas turbine generator,” referring to the equipment used on Merlin’s nine main engines in the first stage of the missile. The gas generators in Merlin 1D engines drive the engines’ turbo pumps.

NASA announced on October 10 that the launch from the Kennedy Space Center for Crew Dragon’s maiden operational flight to the International Space Station would be delayed from October 31 until early to mid-November to allow time for engineers to study and solve the engine problem. .

Cathy Lauders, head of NASA’s human spaceflight programs, tweeted on October 21 that the space agency and SpaceX were making “a lot of good progress … in the engine test.” Better understanding of the unexpected behavior observed during a recent non-NASA launch. “

It’s too early to report results at this point, like SpaceX The test continues to validate what is believed to be the most reliable cause. “

She wrote that SpaceX is replacing one engine on the Falcon 9 mission rocket – known as Crew-1 – and one engine on the Falcon 9 booster intended for the launch of an oceanographic satellite between the United States and Europe next month from Vandenberg Air Force Pace, California.

The motors were replaced with displaying behavior during ground testing that was similar to the “early start behavior” observed during the aborted GPS launch on October 2, Lueders wrote.

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The launch of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich oceanographic satellite is still scheduled for November 10 from California, Loaders said.

“We are also still working on the Crew-1 launch in mid-November,” she added. “We want a few days between Sentinel-6 and Crew-1 to complete data reviews and validate performance. Most importantly, we will do all our assignments when we’re ready.”

The Crew-1 mission will launch four astronauts to begin a six-month expedition to the International Space Station. This follows a test flight of a two-man Dragon crew that began on May 30 and concluded with a successful return to Earth on August 2, the first orbital flight of astronauts to be launched from US soil since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

At a press conference on October 16, the NASA administrator said that engineers from NASA, the US Space Force and SpaceX are jointly investigating an engine problem that emerged during the countdown on October 2.

“I can tell you that an incredible amount of data has been viewed, to include members of our commercial crew program that also includes an upcoming Falcon flight,” said Tim Dunn, NASA Launch Manager for Mission Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich.

In addition to testing at the launch base in Cape Canaveral, SpaceX removed the engines from the Falcon 9 rocket for the GPS mission and returned them to the company’s testing facility in McGregor, Texas, for detailed testing and reviews.

“We learned a lot,” Dunn said. “There will be some physical impacts as we go along, depending on the engines installed on the various missiles. Obviously, the GPS mission has been affected. The NASA Crew-1 mission is affected. In Sentinel-6, we look at the engines that are in our very first stage. What we have to do, but as of today, we have a way forward that allows us to do whatever it takes to rework while preserving the launch date of November 10. “

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