SpaceX conducted another successful launch of its Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday, January 15th, deploying a batch of Starlink internet satellites into orbit. This marks the company’s second launch in less than 16 hours, demonstrating their rapid launch cadence capabilities. Attention now turns to the upcoming Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station later this month.
Overview of the Starlink Mission
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 7:56 PM EST from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Onboard were 22 Starlink satellites that will join the ever-growing constellation providing internet access around the world.
This was the 6th launch and landing of this particular Falcon 9 first stage booster, according to SpaceX. The flight went smoothly, with the rocket’s first stage landing on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean 8 minutes later.
SpaceX confirmed that all satellites were deployed approximately 62 minutes after liftoff. This brings the total number of Starlink satellites launched to over 3,200. Once checked out in orbit they will use onboard ion thrusters to maneuver to their operational altitude of 340 miles high.
Significance of Rapid Launch Cadence
Earlier in the day at 2:56 PM EST, another Falcon 9 rocket took off from California’s Vandenberg Space Force carrying an Earth observation satellite for Argentina. Having two flawless missions only hours apart showcases SpaceX’s efficient launch operations.
The company aims to launch over 100 missions in 2023 alone thanks to reuse of Falcon 9 boosters and fairings. These back-to-back launches marked the 299th and 300th overall Falcon rocket missions since 2010.
Such a high flight rate provides many benefits:
- Quicker build-out of the Starlink megaconstellation
- Increased access to space for commercial and government customers
- Further validation of rapid rocket reusability
Being able to reliably launch, land, and re-fly boosters with only hours between flights is a key advantage for SpaceX. This will assist with future goals like Starship launches to Mars.
|SpaceX Launch Statistics
|Falcon 9 launches in 2022: 61
|Planned Falcon 9 launches in 2023: 70+
|Total Falcon rocket launches to date: 300
Crew-6 Mission Moved to January 27th
With the latest Starlink mission complete, all focus shifts to the Crew-6 launch coming up on Friday, January 27th. This will send 4 astronauts to the ISS aboard a Falcon 9 and new Crew Dragon capsule.
The original date was January 26th but SpaceX announced a one day delay to allow for additional pre-flight checkouts. This extra time will help ensure the rocket and spacecraft are ready to safely carry the crew.
Onboard Crew-6 will be NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi making his first spaceflight, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev. They are scheduled to spend 6 months aboard the orbiting laboratory conducting scientific research.
The astronauts have been in quarantine for the past week and will undergo final medical checks before encapsulation in the Dragon capsule at the top of the rocket. Weather is currently 80% favorable for the nighttime launch.
This will mark SpaceX’s eighth crew rotation mission to the ISS since 2020 when they began operational flights. It demonstrates NASA’s continued confidence in the reliability of Dragon and Falcon 9 for transporting astronauts.
What’s Next for SpaceX and Starlink in 2023
With the first few launches of the new year complete, SpaceX has an extremely busy manifest ahead in 2023. If schedules hold, we can expect up to 100 total launches this year split between the Florida, California, and Texas launch sites.
The bulk of these flights will continue building out Starlink’s internet constellation in low Earth orbit. There are plans for over 50 additional Falcon 9 missions to launch Starlink satellites throughout 2023.
Eventually more capable Starship rockets will take over launching Starlink payloads. But until the massive rocket is ready, Falcon 9 remains the workhorse.
Beyond Starlink, numerous commercial satellites, NASA science missions, GPS satellites, private astronaut flights, and other national security payloads will also launch aboard Falcon rockets this year.
The launch of Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane to orbit is expected later in 2023 too. The busy manifest shows that SpaceX has cemented themselves as the top launch provider globally based on cadence.
Other key SpaceX milestones to watch for this year:
- Crew-6 arrival and Crew-5 departure from ISS
- More Falcon 9 booster re-flights (record is 13)
- Starship attempting full orbital test flight
- Possible crewed Starship suborbital hops
After 21 years SpaceX keeps achieving new heights on the march towards multi-planetary transportation ambitions. Each successful launch puts them one step closer.
SpaceX began 2023 with a remarkable show of force, executing two Falcon 9 launches within 16 hours on opposite coasts of the United States. The missions flawlessly deployed critical Starlink satellites and an Earth monitoring payload.
This level of launch cadence allows SpaceX to enable many incredible space technology projects through vastly improved access to orbit. We can expect the company to only accelerate launches further as they stabilize Starship’s development this year.
But first all eyes turn to sending the next set of astronauts to space aboard the trusted Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule combination. If schedules hold, the 4 members of Crew-6 will reach the ISS by month’s end.
After 21 years, SpaceX continues maturing into the premier launch services company thanks to vertical integration and rapid reusability. This bodes well for the future of the new space industry in the 2020s and beyond.
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