by Chris Tobias
With all the focus on the much-anticipated launch of the Demo-2 mission of Crew Dragon on May 27, which will be the first time since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 that American astronauts will head out to the black from American soil, it’s easy to forget that SpaceX is still expected to launch another batch of approximately 60 satellites for the company’s Starlink broadband network first. A Falcon 9 will lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida NET Sunday, May 17 with a one-hour launch window opening at 3:53am EDT (7:53 UTC).
The mission is dubbed Starlink 7, though it will actually be the eighth batch to be launched and will bring the Starlink fleet to nearly 500 satellites. SpaceX has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to field a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations over a period of 24 launches.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said the company will debut a new sunshade with this mission that is designed to reduce the brightness of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. The measure is intended to alleviate astronomers’ concerns about the satellites’ impact on observations through ground-based telescopes. SpaceX is calling the new feature “VisorSat,” and plans to use it on every subsequent Starlink launch.
According to SpaceX, the first stage rocket booster supporting this upcoming mission also launched two previous Starlink missions, as well as the Iridium-8 and Telstar 18 VANTAGE missions. SpaceX will attempt to recover the booster again aboard its drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, though the weather forecast for the LZ, which is in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 200km east of Charleston, South Carolina, is not looking very good. The National Hurricane Center has reported that an area of low pressure is expected to form near the Bahamas, and it has a high chance of becoming a subtropical depression or storm this weekend while it moves northeastward over the western Atlantic. That is why SpaceX moved the launch forward a day, and perhaps that is also why SpaceX’s fairing recovery vessels, GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief, still had not left port for the LZ as of 5pm on May 14.
Any night owls and folk whose Circadian rhythms have been disrupted due to the Coronavirus quarantine, as well as those who are just ambitious enough to set their alarms, will be able to watch the mission unfold live at spacex.com and on the company’s YouTube channel. The webcast should go live approximately 20 minutes before liftoff.
Peace, love and rockets…