July 17, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Space

SpaceX launches Starlink satellite direct to 100th airframe on Falcon 9 flight from Cape Canaveral – Spaceflight Now

The second stage's smoke plume lights up the predawn sky over Kennedy Space Center, about seven and a half minutes after launch. Image credit: Steven Young/Spaceflight Now.

Update 5:24 a.m. EDT: SpaceX has launched Starlink mission 8-9 and landed the booster, B1073, on the unmanned spacecraft 'A Shortfall of Gravitas.'

SpaceX launched a batch of Starlink satellites using a booster that crashed into technical problems during the final seconds of its latest launch attempt. The launch was the first of the month for the company, which is aiming to average 12 Falcon flights per month by 2024.

Liftoff for the Starlink 8-9 mission from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Station took place at 4:55 a.m. EDT (0855 UTC), adding another 20 Starlink satellites to the growing megaconstellation.

Prior to the launch date, the 45th Weather Squadron predicted an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions during the roughly four-hour launch period. The only potential concern was the presence of cumulus clouds in the area near the launch pad.

The first booster module supporting this mission, B1073 of the SpaceX fleet, launched for the 16th time. It previously launched ispace’s HAKUTO-R lunar lander, SpaceX’s 27th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-27) mission, and 10 Starlink missions.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on the Starlink 8-9 mission on July 3, 2024. Image: Pete Carstens, MaxQ Productions for Spaceflight Now

Just over eight minutes after liftoff, B1073 landed on SpaceX's unmanned spacecraft, 'A Shortfall of Gravitas.' This will be the 76th landing on ASOG and the 327th rocket landing to date.

While B1073's last launch was the Starlink 6-58 mission on May 13, 2024, its final launch attempt was on June 14, when it attempted to launch the Starlink 10-2 mission. It was thwarted over the course of three launch attempts in as many days, culminating in an abort when the Merlin engines began to ignite before liftoff.

The next day, Kiko Dontchev, SpaceX’s vice president of launch, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that the rocket had experienced “a real issue,” forcing them to “inspect the hardware in detail.” He also noted that the problem led to the first week without a Falcon launch “in a long time.”

That quiet period ended up lasting from June 8 to June 18, when SpaceX launched the Starlink 9-1 mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base, marking SpaceX’s first successive launches from Vandenberg without a flight from Florida in between.

Despite the setback, SpaceX launched 10 Falcon rockets in June, including the Falcon Heavy that carried the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) GOES-U satellite on June 25.

“We only launched 10 times in June, but in the second quarter in total we saw 36 successful flights,” Dontchev wrote in X. “All our goals are still within reach, as long as we keep safety and reliability first.”

SpaceX started the year with a goal of reaching 144 or more launches by the end of the year. Now that June is behind us, here's where things stand with regards to Falcon flights:

  • January – 10
  • February 9th
  • March 12
  • April 12th
  • may 14
  • June 10th

If SpaceX were to maintain the same overall pace through the end of the year, it would achieve 134 launches with its Falcon rockets (Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy).

Starlink Expansion

Wednesday morning's launch continued to bolster the ever-expanding Starlink megaconstellation in low Earth orbit. Starlink 8-9 will be the 49th mission dedicated to launching these satellites in 2024 and the 111th launch of the V2 Mini version of Starlink to date.

Of the 20 satellites to be launched, 13 are capable of direct-to-cell transmission. This launch will bring the total of Starlink DTCs to 103. Following the latest launch with Starlink DTCs on board, Sara Spangelo, senior director at SpaceX, expressed her excitement at reaching the 90-satellite mark.

“We are excited about how quickly we are deploying the solution and how soon we will be able to offer customers ubiquitous connectivity directly to their phones,” Spangelo wrote.

The company's Starlink division also welcomed Madagascar to its internet coverage. Michael Nicolls, Starlink's vice president of engineering, said this was the 101st market for the satellite internet provider.

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