CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX will launch its first full stack of Starlink broadband satellites since May tonight (Sept. 13) and you can watch the action live online.
The private spaceflight company will launch a full stack of 60 Starlink satellites on one of its fleet leaders, a veteran Falcon 9 dubbed B1049. The frequent flier is scheduled to blast off from Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Space Force Station in California at 11: 55 p.m. EDT (8: 55 p.m. PDT or 0355 GMT on Sept. 14).
Monday’s flight is the 22nd Falcon 9 mission for SpaceX so far in 2021. In addition, the flight marks the first Starlink launch since May; SpaceX paused launches for about four months in order to equip the satellites with laser crosslinks that allow Starlink satellites to communicate with each other, reducing the constellation’s reliance on Earth, according to SpaceX.
The mission, called Starlink 29, is the company’s first operational Starlink flight from its West Coast launch facility and will bring the total number of SpaceX broadband satellites launched up to 1,797.
SpaceX created its Starlink program in hopes of providing high-speed internet access to users around the world, and as a means to help fund its deep-space ambitions. The service is targeted to users in rural or remote areas that have little to no connectivity, although anyone can subscribe to it.
The rocket doing the lifting is one of the oldest members of SpaceX’s fleet, a booster designated B1049. Poised to make its 10th flight, the rocket’s previous payloads have included seven other Starlink stacks, a Canadian communications satellite and a stack of 10 Iridium NEXT telecommunications satellites.
Following its second cross-country trek from SpaceX’s Florida launch pad to its California outpost, the booster is now ready to loft its 10th payload: a full stack of Starlink satellites. This flight will mark the second time one of SpaceX’s first stage boosters have reached 10 flights. The first rocket to reach that milestone was booster B1051, when it carried a different stack of Starlink satellites into orbit on May 9. That flight was one for the history books as 10 flights with one booster was always a reusability target for SpaceX.
The current version of Falcon 9 flying today (called Block 5) first debuted in 2018, and helped SpaceX usher in an era of rapid reusability. Block 5 boasts a series of upgrades, including a more robust thermal protections system, titanium grid fins and a more durable interstage (the part of the rocket that connects the first stage to the second stage).
When Block 5 debuted, SpaceX announced that each one would be capable of flying at least 10 times, with few refurbishments in between. As the company recovered more rockets and refined its post-flight processing, the company realized that 10 flights was more a guideline than a hard limit and that a sizeable number of boosters can surpass that milestone.
By flying a second rocket 10 times, SpaceX will have even more data on Falcon 9 and how it holds up over multiple flights to better refine booster recovery efforts.