SpaceX drone sets sail for Falcon 9’s upcoming Starlink launch and landing

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An upgraded SpaceX drone heads approximately 630 kilometers (~ 390 mi) into the Atlantic Ocean to support Falcon 9’s upcoming Starlink launch and landing.

SpaceX’s 11th Starlink launch this year alone, the mission will be Starlink’s 12th operational launch (v1.0) and 13th global launch, together representing some 700 operational satellites in orbit. According to a May 2020 interview with SpaceX’s COO and Chairman Gwynne Shotwell, these public beta tests can only begin after 14 completed Starlink launches, while recent FCC filings show SpaceX is only considering v1 satellites. .0 as part of the operational constellation. In other words, if successful, Starlink-12 would leave SpaceX just two launches from a constellation large enough – or nearly so – to begin beta testing of the public Internet service.

Meanwhile, the mission-assigned Falcon 9 rocket will be poised to break SpaceX’s booster reuse record – currently set at 51 days between launches by the same booster assigned to Starlink-12.

Falcon 9 B1058 – pictured here on July 20 – has been assigned to Starlink-12. (SpaceX)

Known as the Falcon booster 9 B1058, the SpaceX rocket became the first American vehicle to launch astronauts since 2011, sending NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon spaceship. After a successful launch on May 30, the spacecraft docked with the ISS about two days later and spent more than two months in orbit before returning to Earth in early August.

Meanwhile, booster B1058 kept busy while the spacecraft it launched was put to the test in orbit. On July 20, the rocket shattered SpaceX’s turnaround record by launching South Korea’s ANASIS II communications satellite, just 51 days after supporting the inaugural launch of astronaut Crew Dragon. While this 51-day turnaround broke SpaceX’s previous 62-day record, it also set a much higher record, toppling NASA’s space shuttle to become the fastest reusable orbital-class rocket ever built.

(Richard Angle)
The Falcon 9 B1058 booster is the first American rocket to launch astronauts in a decade. (SpaceX)

As of now, Falcon 9 B1058 is scheduled to launch Starlink-12 no earlier than 2:17 p.m. EDT (UTC-4) on Thursday, September 17 (NET). Barring delays, this would represent a delay of 59 days since the second record launch of the booster. If Starlink-12 is launched before September 19, B1058 will be the proud holder of SpaceX’s first and second place rotation records and will technically have flown three times in ~ 110 days.

Following Starlink-12, SpaceX aims to launch Starlink-13 at the end of September and has scheduled its third US military GPS III launch – with the new Falcon 9 B1062 booster – no earlier than September 30 (NET). While unlikely, if everything stays on schedule, September 2020 could be the first month of four launches in SpaceX history.

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