For the past seven years we here at Take Back the Sky have been focusing our efforts to get a real-life manned spaceship named Serenity on SpaceX and its founder and CEO, Elon Musk. If you want to understand why we chose SpaceX and not Virgin Galactic, Boeing, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, or any other private company that’s in the business of building and launching spaceships, you need look no further than the upcoming Starlink-1 mission. While SpaceX has been in the business of making history (and making spaceflight sexy again) for some time now, this latest mission has several features that just exude the daring, independent spirit that we Browncoats value so highly.
Starlink-1 Mission Patch (courtesy SpaceX Now)
First of all, the mission’s very purpose is something any Browncoat would admire. With Starlink, SpaceX hopes to establish a mega-constellation of 12,000 satellites that will provide high-speed internet across the entire planet. The endeavor will cost Elon Musk and company roughly $10 billion, and it is expected to take approximately 10 years. When it’s finished, however, anyone will be able to have high-speed internet access anywhere on the globe, and the best connections will no longer be reserved for those who are in the most populated areas or have the finances to afford the equipment necessary to establish a good connection out on the raggedy edge. SpaceX plans to have half the constellation in orbit by 2024, with the full constellation out in the black by 2028.
The Starlink-1 launch, which is planned NET 10:30PM EDT on May 15 (02:30 GMT May 16) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will be the sixth SpaceX launch of 2019 and the fifth for a Falcon 9. It will also be the 70th Falcon 9 launch since 2010. Its payload will be no less than 60 satellites that will be inserted into Low Earth Orbit. SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell has stated publicly that this first batch of 60 satellites will drive the schedule for the next set of spacecraft to be launched, depending on how successful they are.
There’s more to the Browncoat nature of this mission than its everyman payload, however. The logistics of the mission also reflect the attitude of a company that aims to misbehave. Not only will the mission utilize a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage, but for the first time, the satellites will also be launched within a previously-flown payload fairing. The Falcon 9 first stage being used is core B1049, which was previously utilized for the Iridium-8 mission in January 2019 as well as the Telstar 18V mission in September 2018. (It will be recovered yet again aboard SpaceX’s Atlantic droneship Of Course I Still Love You during this mission.) The payload fairing for the mission is expected to be the one that SpaceX successfully recovered from the Atlantic Ocean following the most recent Falcon Heavy mission.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 disintegrates during the launch of CRS-7. (NASA photo)
I’ve watched a lot of Falcon 9 launches. Some have carried satellites into orbit for private customers. Some, like yesterday’s, launched Dragon capsules to rendezvous with the International Space Station as part of SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply contract with NASA. Like everyone who’s watched SpaceX’s launches live online, I’ve gotten used to holds and scrubs for all manner of different reasons, some mechanical, some meteorological, some just precautionary. But one thing that has always been the case is that in the end, SpaceX does the job. In fact, the Falcon 9 has become so reliable that this amateur space enthusiast had begun to take it for granted. In Musk we trust. Period.
In the run-up to yesterday’s CRS-7 launch, I e-mailed Jeff to tell him that I had a feeling in my gut that this launch was going to be the lucky one, and that SpaceX would finally succeed in recovering their first-stage Falcon 9 rocket booster on their drone-piloted barge “Of Course I Still Love You.” I told him that because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to watch the launch live, or even follow its progress on social media. My teenage son, who is a very serious lacrosse player, was playing a tournament at a remote field complex that morning, and even if the launch weren’t occurring about twenty minutes after his first game faced off (which it was), I doubted I’d have the cellular service to keep tabs on what was happening. With my luck, I figured, the fact that this was the first launch in nearly two years that I wouldn’t be able to watch live either on my laptop or my cell phone meant it was sure to make history.
Well, I guess that last bit wasn’t wrong, just not in the way I was thinking.
The Dragon V2 is ready for its pad abort test. (Photo: SpaceX)
SpaceX recently completed its second successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket in less than two weeks, a record turnaround time for the company. The first of those launches sent an umanned Dragon to the International Space Station. It’s still berthed there, and will return to Earth later this month.
But while that unmanned Dragon remains in Low Earth Orbit at the ISS, SpaceX is about to take a major step in the development of their manned Dragon capsule, the very same one that we hope will one day be named Serenity.
On the morning of Wednesday, May 6 at approximately 7am, SpaceX plans to conduct a “pad abort” test of its Dragon V2, the manned version of the Dragon that will carry astronauts to the ISS as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 will simulate a launch pad emergency. The Dragon will be shot into the air from the launch pad, and will deploy its parachutes and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. In the process, the Dragon will also employ its “SuperDraco” thrusters, which are designed to aid the capsule and its crew in escaping from a rocket on the pad or in flight if things get “interesting” in Hoban “Wash” Washburne’s definition of the word.
Following this test, the next step will be this summer, when SpaceX will conduct an “in-flight abort” test, launched from California. In that test the Dragon will attempt to escape from a Falcon 9 rocket after its launch.
September 6 marks the one-year anniversary of Take Back the Sky, and I have to say I think we’ve come a long way in these first twelve months. Our online petition has over 1,400 signatures and continues to climb, we’ve sent hundreds of letters to Elon Musk at SpaceX asking him to name his first manned Dragon spacecraft Serenity (and those are just the ones we’ve collected and sent at cons; it’s likely there have been hundreds more), we’ve been featured on podcasts and blogs, and we’ve presented panels and worked tables at two conventions, with a third scheduled for later this month (Pittsburgh Comicon, September 27-29). Until we hear the announcement that the next manned US spacecraft will be called Serenity, though, there’s still plenty of work to be done, so we figured we’d kick off the second year of Take Back the Sky with a very special project that should be all manner of fun for everyone.
Since the autumn season is just around the corner, we thought this would be the perfect time for us to show Elon Musk how much we want him to christen his first manned Dragon Serenity by sending him a leaf on the wind… literally.