SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday, January 14th, deploying another batch of Starlink internet satellites into orbit after several weather-related delays pushed the launch back multiple times last week.
Launch Occurs After Multiple Scrubs
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 1:25 PM EST from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, carrying 53 Starlink satellites to orbit. The launch was originally scheduled for January 7th but was postponed several times due to unfavorable weather conditions at the launch site.
High winds and thunderstorm risks repeatedly scrapped launch attempts last week. SpaceX stood down a first launch try on January 7th, then waved off the next attempt on January 12th. Another try on January 13th was halted by range issues. Finally, the company got a favorable weather report on Sunday afternoon and proceeded with a successful liftoff.
This was the first SpaceX launch from Florida in 2024 and the first of potentially over 50 planned Falcon 9 launches the company hopes to execute this year.
Mission Expands Starlink Constellation
This mission, designated Starlink 6-37, delivered the satellites to an orbit about 208 miles above Earth. The Starlink satellites will use onboard ion thrusters to maneuver into their operational orbit at 342 miles altitude over the next few months.
SpaceX has already launched over 3,500 Starlink satellites to date, making Starlink the largest satellite constellation ever put in space. This launch brings them closer to completing the first phase of the Starlink network, providing global high-speed internet coverage from space.
|Starlink Launch Stats
|Satellites launched to date
|Satellites from this mission
|Total Starlink satellites in orbit
|Starlink satellites required for phase 1 coverage
“Starlink will continue launching satellites to provide more coverage areas across the globe,” said SpaceX engineer Kate Tice. “We still have 14 launches to go before meeting our phase 1 goal of 4,400 satellites, but at our current launch rate we anticipate finishing phase 1 around June 2024.”
Booster Makes Record-Tying Landing
The Falcon 9’s first stage booster successfully landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” stationed out in the Atlantic Ocean, its 11th flight to date. This ties the NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis for most missions flown by any orbital class booster.
SpaceX routinely lands and reuses Falcon 9 stages to reduce launch costs. Rocket reusability is key to the company’s long term mission of making human life multiplanetary.
“Rocket booster B1063 tying the NASA shuttle record shows the immense progress SpaceX has made with reusability in a short time,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “Many said reusable orbital rockets were impossible, but we’ve now flown some boosters 11 times. Our goal is to achieve 100 flights per booster with no service, which would revolutionize space access.”
Constellation Crucial for Funding Mars Dreams
Experts say SpaceX’s ability to build, launch and operate Starlink is vital to Musk’s ultimate vision of establishing a human colony on Mars. Profits from the burgeoning Starlink internet service help fund cutting edge rocket and spaceship development needed to reach the Red Planet.
“Starlink is the economic engine allowing SpaceX to pursue its radical Mars plans,” said Dr. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “The reality is launching satellites to beam internet around the world generates steady money today in a way Martian colonies don’t, helping drive critical R&D behind the scenes.”
Upcoming Milestones After Successful Start to 2024
SpaceX started 2024 at a rapid pace, executing three launches in the year’s first 12 days from both coasts. The company is gearing up for the first orbital test flight of its next generation Starship rocket and Super Heavy booster from Texas in the coming months.
Later this year, SpaceX also plans to launch the first two elements of its new space station to orbit – a crucial step toward replacing the soon-to-be-retired International Space Station (ISS).
With the Falcon 9 back on track after weather delays, SpaceX has an ambitious manifest ahead in 2024 to expand Starlink, prepare its Mars plans and launch customers while new rival rockets like ULA’s Vulcan aim to compete for market share. Sunday’s smooth launch bodes well for the upstart space company handling the huge workload.
What’s Next for Starlink 6-37 Mission
The 53 newest Starlink satellites will slowly raise their orbits over the next weeks and months. After checkouts, they will join the rest of the constellation providing low-latency internet to customers across the planet.
Back on Earth, the Falcon 9’s record-tied booster will return to port for inspections and refurbishment before its next launch, potentially in March 2024 if scheduling holds. SpaceX maintains a large rocket fleet with boosters capable of quick turnarounds, maximizing launch cadence.
This was the first of likely two dozen or more Starlink missions on the books for 2024 as SpaceX races to finish the first major phase of its internet satellite network. The next batch of Starlinks is slated to launch from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base NET January 17th aboard another flight proven Falcon 9 rocket.
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