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A batch of 60 Starlinks attached to a Falcon 9 upper stage. Image Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 first stage for a record-breaking tenth time

On Sunday morning, May 09, 2021, SpaceX broke their own record by launching a Falcon 9 first stage for a tenth time. The two-stage, medium-lift launch vehicle blasted off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral SFS in Florida in the early morning hours on May 09, carrying this week’s second batch of Starlink satellites into a low Earth orbit (LEO).

Liftoff of Falcon 9 from the Cape Canaveral SFS. Image Credit: SpaceX.
Liftoff of Falcon 9 from the Cape Canaveral SFS. Image Credit: SpaceX.

About 2 ½ minutes after liftoff, the nine Merlin engines on the rocket’s first stage shut down ahead of stage separation and ignition of the second stage’s vacuum-optimized Merlin engine. While the upper stage with the 60 spacecraft continued its journey to orbit, the core stage performed two additional burns of its engines to slow itself down ahead of the landing attempt on the droneship Just Read the Instructions. At around T+8 min 35 s the stage successfully touched down on the autonomous spaceport droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Today’s mission was the tenth flight of this particular first stage. The booster first flew on the Demo-1 mission in March 2019 and later supported the launch of the RADARSAT constellation, the launch of the SXM-7 radio satellite, as well as six Starlink flights. The stage will now be transported back to land, where it will be refurbished and reused on a future mission.

The rocket's first stage on the droneship Just Read the Instructions. Image Credit: SpaceX.
The rocket’s first stage on the droneship Just Read the Instructions. Image Credit: SpaceX.

Shortly after the landing of the core stage, the second stage shut down its engine and entered a ~37 min long coast phase, before reigniting the engine for just a second at T+45 min 33 s. This short burn inserted the stage and its payload into their target orbit.

18 minutes later at T+1 h 04 min 13 s the 60 communications satellites were successfully separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage, completing the rocket’s mission. The spacecraft will now distance themselves from each other, deploy their solar arrays and use their onboard ion engines to raise their current transfer orbit to their final operational orbit at an altitude of around 550 km.

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

The satellites will join SpaceX’ Starlink constellation, which already consist of over 1500 satellites. The company plans to launch up to 42,000 Starlinks into Earth’s orbit, to provide high-speed, low latency broadband internet access to rural areas all around the globe. With the money earned through Starlink, SpaceX hopes to finance a large portion of their Mars colonization efforts.

This morning’s launch was the second Starlink batch to be carried into space this week. The first one blasted off from historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, just north of Cape Canaveral, on Tuesday, May 04 atop another Falcon 9 rocket. The booster of that launch vehicle also safely landed back on Earth for reuse.

The next Starlink mission is scheduled to be launched next Saturday, May 15, 2021 atop a Falcon 9 launch vehicle from the Kennedy Space Center.


Sources

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

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