by Chris Tobias
SpaceX will launch its next batch of 60 Starlink satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket NET 3:16 PM EST (19:16 UTC) Thursday, April 23 from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Starlink is SpaceX’s constellation of satellites that are designed to provide broadband internet access across the globe. This month’s launch will push the size of SpaceX’s Starlink fleet to just over 300 satellites, though not all of them will be operational when the broadband network goes online.
The Falcon 9 booster for this mission completed its static fire on April 17, nearly a full week before its scheduled launch. It is a bit unusual for SpaceX to conduct such an early static fire, which has led some to speculate that it might be related to the fact that the Falcon 9 used for the company’s most recent mission on March 18 suffered an engine failure that ultimately resulted in a second consecutive unsuccessful attempt at landing and recovering the first stage booster (though the mission itself was successful). The booster that was lost last month had just been launched for the fifth time, more than any other Falcon 9.
The rocket that will be used for this upcoming mission will be making its fourth flight, having previously launched in support of Crew Dragon’s first flight to the space station as well as the RADARSAT Constellation mission and the fourth Starlink mission. A problem-free launch and recovery would ease any troubled minds in advance of the launch of the crewed Demonstration Mission of Crew Dragon (DM-2), which is scheduled to occur late next month.
If there are those who are concerned, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine doesn’t seem to be among them. He has already stated that Falcon 9’s engine anomaly on March 18 is “… not going to impact our Commercial Crew launch.”
Despite Bridenstine’s assurances, SpaceX may be feeling a bit more pressure to prove the reliability of the Falcon 9’s Merlin engines given that the rocket is scheduled to send two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, out to the black on a test mission to help prove that Crew Dragon’s systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and back. The mission will launch NET May 27 from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center, and will mark the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 that American astronauts will launch from American soil.
It is our hope that when it does finally launch, that first Crew Dragon will be named Serenity, after the Firefly-class transport ship from Joss Whedon’s sci-fi television series Firefly and follow-up motion picture Serenity. For nearly eight years now, we at Take Back the Sky have been trying to convince SpaceX to christen the spaceship with that name, and if you’d like to take action to help us, there’s still time (though admittedly not much) to write to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and president and COO Gwynne Shotwell to ask them to consider the name.
During this upcoming mission, SpaceX plans to recover the Falcon 9’s first stage for a fourth time in the Atlantic Ocean aboard its drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. The fairing for the mission is also a veteran of a previous launch, having been flown for the AMOS-17 mission in August 2019. SpaceX’s fairing recovery vessels, GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief, will attempt to recover the fairing yet again during this mission.
Peace, love and rockets…