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.
The first SpaceX launch of the New Year is scheduled to take place (NET) Friday, January 11 at 10:31 AM EST (15:31 UTC). SpaceX completed the static fire for the Iridium-8 mission at Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg AFB in California on January 6, and will launch 10 satellites of the Iridium NEXT constellation aboard a Falcon 9 from the same pad this weekend.
(image courtesy AmericaSpace)
The relationship between SpaceX and Iridium traces back to 2010, when Iridium contracted Elon Musk’s private space company to launch its entire NEXT satellite constellation shortly after the very first successful flight of a Falcon 9. It would be seven years before SpaceX would be able to start fulfilling that contract, but since the first of seven previous Iridium NEXT missions was completed in 2017, SpaceX has been able to launch and deploy each subsequent group of satellites every few months with little interruption. This month’s launch will be the eighth and final launch of the Iridium NEXT constellation of satellites, and upon its completion, SpaceX will have launched a total of 75 satellites for Iridium in just two years.
The Falcon 9 for this mission will be a previously-flown booster that was launched and recovered in September of 2018 during the Telstar 18V mission. This final group of ten Iridium NEXT satellites will be inserted into a Low Polar Orbit, and the first stage of the Falcon 9 will land once again, this time at sea aboard SpaceX’s Pacific drone barge Just Read the Instructions.
Those who wish to watch this milestone mission can tune into SpaceX’s live webcast at spacex.com and on the company’s YouTube channel. Coverage will begin approximately 20 minutes before liftoff.
Peace, love and rockets…
It’s almost become a rarity to have a break between SpaceX launches anymore. It seems like we’ve written a lot this summer about multiple launches in the span of a week, or even two launches in a weekend, so it’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been over a month since the last time a Falcon 9 broke atmo. That will change Sunday night though, when SpaceX launches the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite (Telstar 18V for short) into Geostationary Transfer Orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Night launches of the Falcon 9, like the one SpaceX plans this Sunday, can be visually quite spectacular. (Photo: Mike Killian via Space Coast Daily)
The upcoming launch, which is scheduled for September 9 at 11:28 PM EDT (03:28 UTC), will feature a brand new “Block 5” Falcon 9 that has never previously flown. SpaceX plans to recover the rocket’s first stage in the Atlantic Ocean aboard the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.
The Telstar 18V is a communications satellite that will be shared between the Canadian company Telesat and Hong Kong’s APT Satellite Co. Ltd. According to Telesat, it is designed to aid communications from India and Pakistan all the way to Hawaii, and has a potential mission length of more than 15 years. SpaceX successfully launched the second satellite in this series in July of this year.
The most recent weather forecast from the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing shows 60% favorable conditions for Sunday night’s launch.
So, if you’re looking for an alternative to ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball (Astros at Red Sox, if you were wondering) or NBC’s Sunday Night Football (Bears at Packers, if you care), you can watch the prime time launch of Telstar 18V live online at spacex.com or the company’s YouTube channel. For those new fans out there, SpaceX typically begins its live webcast of launches approximately 20 minutes before liftoff.
Peace, love and rockets…