On the morning of 29th January, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket, deploying every 60 satellites into orbit. The rocket also managed to perform another successful landing on the drone ship of the company in the Atlantic after launch. While SpaceX did catch one half of the rocket’s fairing, the other half partially missed its boat.
A week after executing an important test flight for NASA, SpaceX was ready to perform yet another Falcon 9 mission rocket from Florida. This mission was tasked with deploying the new batch of internet-beaming satellites for SpaceX, adding those satellites to a group of roughly 180 satellites the company already has deployed in the orbit.
Wednesday’s flight was the fourth launch for the Starlink project of SpaceX. The mission aims to set up internet coverage to every point on the globe installing a massive constellation of satellites in the orbit. SpaceX has permission to deploy about 12,000 satellites and has shown interest in launching 30,000 more. To complete its licensing responsibilities, SpaceX has to launch about 6,000 satellites within the next five to six years. The company is planning to launch about 24 Starlink missions this year.
Every Starlink launch comprises of 60 satellites, so Wednesday’s mission totaled SpaceX’s constellation to about 240 satellites in orbit. On January 6th of this year, SpaceX had already launched another 60 satellites. That batch had one satellite with an experimental coating, focused on decreasing the satellite’s brightness in the sky. The experiment was in response to the concern expressed by astronomers that the super-bright Starlink satellites might hinder their observations of the Universe. SpaceX will continue to launch its regular bright satellites in the meantime while it studies whether the coating is working or not.
Recovering Rocket parts
Liftoff of Wednesday’s mission was slated for 9:06 AM ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. SpaceX utilized one of its Falcon 9 rockets for the mission, a vehicle that has been launched to space and came back twice before. The rocket deployed the satellites to an altitude of about 290 kilometers a starting parking orbit about an hour after launch. After some systems checks, the satellites then raised their altitude to the final 550-kilometer orbit.
SpaceX tried to recover as many parts of Falcon 9 rocket as possible. The vehicle attempted one of SpaceX’s signature rocket landings about 10 minutes after launch, touching down on a floating drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX also tried to catch the nose cone of Falcon 9’s (or fairing), which is the spherical structure on top of the rocket that protects the satellites at the time of the launch. Once in space, the nose cone breaks in half and drops back to Earth. A navigation system and parachutes are employed, to land the fairing on two boats, each both has a giant net to gently catch the hardware. SpaceX has been able to catch one fairing half at a time; however, it has yet to catch both of them on a single flight.
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