On Wednesday, January 29, SpaceX completed its fourth launch of Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, launching 60 satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX reported on their official website.
The rocket’s upper stage deployed the satellites into a 302-kilometer low Earth orbit about an hour after liftoff.
SpaceX said it will test its satellites around that low altitude, where it expects any failures would burn up in Earth’s atmosphere after a few months. After completing checkouts, SpaceX plans to raise the satellites to a 550-kilometer operational orbit.
The liftoff Wednesday came after a series of weather delays since last week. After performing a standard pre-launch test-firing of the rocket, SpaceX pushed back the launch from Jan. 21 to Jan. 24, then to Monday, Jan. 27, to wait for improved weather conditions in the Atlantic Ocean, where SpaceX stationed ships to retrieve the first stage and payload fairing from the Falcon 9 rocket.
The booster flown Wednesday was making its third trip to space, following successful launches and landings in March 2019 and June 2019 on flights carrying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Canada’s Radarsat Constellation Mission. With Wednesday’s mission, the booster has launched from all three of SpaceX’s active launch pads in Florida and California, Spaceliftnow.com reports.
The two halves of the Falcon 9’s payload shroud used cold gas thrusters to maneuver into the proper orientation for the descent, then unfurled parafoils for a gentle fall toward the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX’s two fast-moving fairing recovery boats — named “Ms. Tree and “Ms. Chief” — tried to catch both halves of the Falcon 9’s aerodynamic fairing.
SpaceX confirmed Ms. Tree caught one side of the shroud in a giant net. Ms. Chief, equipped with a similar net, failed to snag the other half of the fairing before it fell into the sea, but teams were expected to pull the hardware from the ocean for inspections and refurbishment.
SpaceX said the rocket did its job placing the satellites into the proper orbit, and live video from the Falcon 9’s second stage showed the 60 flat-panel satellites separating from the launch vehicle as it flew south of Australia about one hour after liftoff from Cape Canaveral.
SpaceX Starlink project aims to build a massive constellation of broadband internet satellites, providing constant high-speed internet access to users around the world. With this launch, since May 2019, SpaceX has deployed 240 Starlink satellites on four dedicated missions. That makes SpaceX the owner of the world’s largest fleet of commercial satellites.