SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket as Starship work continues on Pad 39A – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket as Starship work continues on Pad 39A - Spaceflight Now

A view of Launch Complex 39A Tuesday morning, where SpaceX taxied a Falcon 9 rocket to the pad for liftoff with another batch of 52 Starlink Internet satellites. At right, work continues on the launch pad for SpaceX’s next-generation Starship program. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX continues to launch Falcon 9 rockets from Launch Complex 39A in Florida as construction progresses on a nearby tower for the company’s next-generation Starship rocket. Overnight on Tuesday, SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 into pad 39A for liftoff with the next batch of Starlink Internet satellites, just hours after another section of Starship’s gantry tower arrived at the pad

The sixth of Starship’s nine launch tower sections was moved to Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A on a self-propelled transporter Monday night. A large crane on Pad 39A was expected to lift the five-story-tall segment atop five sections already stacked at the Starship’s orbital launch site, located about 1,000 feet (300 meters) east of the existing Falcon 9 launch pad.

SpaceX is moving forward with work on the Starship pad in Florida, the second site for the huge reusable rocket after a similar facility was built in South Texas. The tower will be more than 450 feet tall when completed.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket mission is scheduled for launch at 18:57:40 EDT (2257:40 GMT) on Tuesday from pad 39A. The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket will head northeast from Kennedy and accelerate into orbit over the Atlantic Ocean to inject 52 Starlink satellites into orbit.

Ground crews at pad 39A rolled the Falcon 9 from its hangar to launch position early Tuesday, then lifted the rocket vertically above the flame trench around 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT). Crews planned to prepare the rocket for the start of the automated countdown sequence 35 minutes before liftoff time.

SpaceX will load one million pounds of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Falcon 9, setting the stage for the ignition of its nine Merlin 1D engines about three seconds before liftoff.

After an engine status check on the computer, the hold-down clamps will open to release the Falcon 9 to begin its vertical climb from pad 39A. Falcon 9’s guidance computer will vector the engine’s thrust downward, aligning with a Starlink fleet orbital plane tilted at an angle of 53.2 degrees to the equator.

The first stage will shut down its nine engines separately from the Falcon 9’s upper stage about two and a half minutes after liftoff. The booster will use cold gas thrusters and extendable titanium grid fins to control its re-entry into the atmosphere.

A restart of three of the main Merlin engines will slow the rocket as it descends through thicker air, then a final landing burn with the center engine will allow the thruster to brake for landing on a drone ship parked in the ‘Atlantic Ocean a few hundred. miles east of Charleston, South Carolina.

Credit: Spaceflight Now

The landing of the first stage is scheduled for T+plus 8 minutes and 44 seconds, to complete the booster’s third flight in space. The first stage, designated B1073 in the SpaceX inventory, debuted in May and made a second flight in June.

The Falcon 9’s single-use upper stage will continue in orbit with a six-minute burn of its single Merlin engine, which will shut down at the same time as the first-stage booster lands on SpaceX’s drone ship. Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing will be launched during the second stage burn. A recovery ship is also on station in the Atlantic to retrieve the two halves of the nose cone after they fall under the parachutes.

The upper stage is scheduled to deploy all 52 Starlink satellites at T+ plus 15 minutes and 24 seconds. The rocket will aim for an orbit between 144 miles and 208 miles (232 by 335 kilometers). The Starlink satellites will separate from the Falcon 9’s upper stage after it releases four retaining rods that hold the spacecraft to the rocket during launch.

The satellites will deploy their power-generating solar arrays and use ion engines to climb to an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers). Orbit raising maneuvers typically take a few weeks to a few months, depending on each spacecraft’s target orbital plane.

SpaceX has launched 2,957 Starlink satellites for Tuesday’s mission, known as Starlink 4-26, including prototypes and earlier designs of spacecraft that are no longer in service. The 52 satellites that will be added to the Starlink 4-26 mission constellation will increase the total number of Starlink spacecraft launches to more than 3,000.

A tabulation by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and expert in tracking space flight activity, shows that there are 2,662 Starlink satellites in orbit on Tuesday. The network has 2,268 operational satellites providing consumer broadband services, and the rest are maneuvering into final orbital positions, according to McDowell.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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