SpaceX schedules Starlink’s next launch, launches rocket for asteroid redirection mission


Update: SpaceX managed to statically fire the Falcon 9 tasked with launching DART. The rocket will now return to the SLC-4 integration hangar for payload installation before deploying to the platform a second time.

SpaceX has scheduled its next East Coast Starlink launch just weeks after the last one as another Falcon 9 rocket prepares to launch NASA’s DART asteroid redirection demonstration mission.

On Tuesday, NASA confirmed that a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was on track to launch the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) spacecraft no earlier than (NET) at 10:21 p.m. PST on Tuesday, November 23 (6:21 a.m. UTC November 24). Following the successful launch of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) Sentinel 6A spacecraft in November 2020 and the first launch of a full batch of laser-linked Starlink satellites on September 14, DART will be the third launch of SpaceX on the West Coast in just over 12 months and the first time the company has launched from Vandenberg twice in a year since 2019.

Then, Spaceflight Now and launch photographer Ben Cooper recently confirmed that SpaceX has already scheduled its next Starlink launch after a successful mission on November 13, aimed at delivering another batch of ~ 53 laser-linked satellites to NET orbit at 1:36 am. AM EST (06:36 UTC), Wednesday, December 1.

Oddly enough, the Spaceflight Now launch schedule indicates that SpaceX’s upcoming Starlink launch won’t help the recent confusion over the constellation mission naming scheme. SpaceX’s most recent launch of Starlink has been dubbed “Starlink 4-1,” which is explained below.

“Simply put, the first phase of about 4,400 satellites in SpaceX’s Starlink constellation is divided into five groups of satellites – called hulls – with different orbital altitudes and inclinations (the inclination of the orbit). In May, SpaceX’s last East Coast launch from Starlink effectively completed the first of those five shells or groups. With the debut of Starlink V1.5 in September, SpaceX also launched a new naming scheme, considering the Starlink 2-1 mission – the first launch of the second shell. Based on the tilt involved in the Starlink 4-1 danger warning, Shell 4 refers to a second group of 1584 satellites almost identical to Shell 1, while Shell 2 is a semi-polar group of 720 satellites. . This means that Shells 3 and 5 are sets of 340 or 158 satellites at slightly different altitudes in polar orbit and will likely be the last Phase 1 Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX. “ – November 7, 2021

SpaceX’s upcoming Starlink launch, however, is apparently called “Starlink 4-3,” implying that the company either skipped one launch or was forced to swap the order of two missions for unknown reasons ( perhaps the same reason that Starlink 2-3 – itself leapfrogging 2-2 – has been indefinitely delayed from the original October launch target. In short, besides being rare for reasons not specified, the sequencing of SpaceX Starlink launches has been a mess during the second half of 2021 and it doesn’t ‘looks like that will change anytime soon.

Unless one or more other missions are postponed, CEO Elon Musk recent statement that SpaceX “aims [to launch] 80 tons “or ~ 175,000 pounds of payload in Q4 2021 gives way to two more Starlink launches (including 4-3) in the last six weeks of the year.

Launch and landing of Sentinel 6A from Falcon 9, November 2020. (EspaceX)

In the meantime, as early as November 23, SpaceX is expected to launch DART into an unspecified orbit – possibly a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) but possibly directly into deep space, the latter making the first launch of Falcon 9. beyond the Earth – Lunar system. Despite the extremely light payload, the Falcon 9 B1063 booster is expected to land at sea on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY), which falls in favor of a high-speed land escape launch.

A team from SpaceX, JHUAPL (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab) and NASA successfully mated the ~ 550-670 kg (1200-1500 lb) spacecraft to the Falcon 9 payload adapter on November 10. and are probably only days away from encapsulating the DART inside the rocket’s relatively massive payload shroud. Without a payload, Falcon 9 will likely be deployed on SpaceX’s SLC-4E pad and perform a pre-launch static fire test any day before returning to the hangar for the fairing installation.

Update: A forum member spotted the vertical Falcon 9 as it traveled by train past SpaceX’s Vandenberg launch pad, confirming that a static fire is imminent.

SpaceX schedules Starlink’s next launch, launches rocket for asteroid redirection mission


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