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Image Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX launches 25th operational Starlink mission

The American rocket manufacturer, launch provider and satellite operator SpaceX, earlier today successfully launched one of their Falcon 9 rockets, carrying 60 of the company’s own Starlink communications satellites. The vehicle blasted off from historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, launching the spacecraft into a low Earth orbit.

Liftoff of Falcon 9, carrying 60 of SpaceX's own Starlink satellites into space. Image Credit: SpaceX.
Liftoff of Falcon 9, carrying 60 of SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites into space. Image Credit: SpaceX.

After liftoff at 15:01 EDT / 19:01 UTC Falcon 9 soon broke the sound barrier and passed the point of maximum mechanical stress experienced by the rocket. At T+2 min 32 s the nine Merlin rocket engines shut down ahead of stage separation and ignition of the upper stage, which occurred just seconds later.  Around three minutes after the launch in Florida, the two payload fairing halves protecting the Starlink satellites during ascent, jettisoned from the rocket, exposing the payload to the vacuum of space. One of the halves already supported two previous Starlink flights, while the other one flew for its first time.

While the second stage continued its journey to orbit, the first stage performed two more burns of its engines to slow the booster down ahead of the landing on the droneship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY), which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. Touchdown of the booster on the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) occurred at around T+8 min 40 s. The booster, which had already supported eight previous missions, will now be refurbished and used again on a future flight.

The rocket's first stage on the droneship Of Course I Still Love You. Image Credit: SpaceX.
The rocket’s first stage on the droneship Of Course I Still Love You. Image Credit: SpaceX.

Shortly after the landing of booster B1049 on the droneship, the vacuum-optimized single Merlin rocket engine of the second stage shut down ahead of a 36 min long coast phase. At T+45 min 33 s the engine briefly reignited for about a second, inserting the stage and its payload into its target orbit. After a second coast phase of around 18 min, the 60 Starlink satellites were deployed from the Falcon 9 upper stage at T+1 h 04 min 15 s, completing the rocket’s mission. The spacecraft will now distance themself from each other, deploy their solar panels and use their ion engines to raise their current transfer orbit to its final opertional orbit at an altitude of 550 km.

Separation of the 60 Starlink satellites. Image Credit: SpaceX.
Separation of the 60 Starlink satellites. Image Credit: SpaceX.

Today’s mission was the 25th launch of the operational Starlink v1.0 spacecraft. They are part of SpaceX’ Starlink satellite constellation, which the company is currently constructing in low Earth orbit. With the help of up to 42,000 of these communications satellites, SpaceX plans to provide high-speed, low latency broadband internet access to rural areas all around the globe.

Click here to rewatch the launch.


Sources

https://www.spacex.com/launches/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpl_JnG7rcg

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