SpaceX conducted a successful Falcon 9 rocket launch on Sunday, January 14th, delivering another set of Starlink internet satellites into low Earth orbit. The 2-stage rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 5:49pm EST, marking the company’s first launch of 2024.
Lead Up to Launch
The Falcon 9 rocket was originally slated to launch on Saturday evening, but the launch was scrubbed at the last minute due to a ground systems auto-abort. SpaceX teams worked through the night to resolve the issue, recycling the countdown for a Sunday launch attempt. Weather conditions on Sunday evening were 90% favorable.
This mission, designated Starlink 6-37 by SpaceX, delivered 22 latest generation Starlink satellites to orbit. It was the 7th launch for the constellation this year as SpaceX continues to build out global high-speed satellite internet coverage. Over 3,500 Starlink satellites have been launched to date, making it the largest satellite constellation ever put in space.
At T-0 the 9 Merlin engines at the base of the Falcon 9 roared to life, propelling the 230-foot tall rocket off the pad with over 1.7 million pounds of thrust. Clear skies provided spectacular viewing of the evening ascent, with Falcon 9 lighting up the Florida coast as it rapidly accelerated on a northeast trajectory.
The reusable 1st stage separated safely 2 minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff, heading back towards Cape Canaveral for a pinpoint landing on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship stationed out in the Atlantic Ocean. Landing success was confirmed several minutes later, marking the 130th recovery of a Falcon booster.
Meanwhile, the 2nd stage Merlin Vacuum engine fired for 6 minutes to reach the target orbital insertion point, circling the planet every 90 minutes at over 17,000 mph. The protective payload fairing halves were jettisoned during ascent, exposing the stack of Starlink satellites nestled together inside.
The Starlink satellites were deployed in batches over 15 minutes by rotating the second stage to the proper orientation. Onboard cameras captured views of the satellites slowly drifting away, their solar arrays activating while crossing into sunlight. Ground controllers will spend the next few days checking status and conducting orbit raising maneuvers to position the satellites for integration into the operational Starlink constellation.
This was the 49th Starlink launch from Florida’s Space Coast and the 20th mission of 2024 for SpaceX. The company is targeting a pace of 1-2 launches per week this year split between Falcon rockets flying from California & Florida and the new heavy lift Starship system at Starbase Texas.
Reliability Upgrades for Falcon Fleet
For this mission SpaceX implemented several notable upgrades to improve reliability and reusability of the company’s Falcon rocket fleet, which has become the world’s most flown orbital class booster. Changes included:
- Autogenous pressurization for the second stage tanks, removing dependency on ground supplied gasses
- Enlarged landing legs and titanium grid fins to handle higher re-entry heating
- Composite interstage structure allowing for faster turnaround between flights
- Refurbished fairing supporting its 5th launch
SpaceX has a busy manifest in the coming weeks. Next up is launch of the pioneering Polaris Dawn private crew mission to orbit in partnership with Axiom Space, currently targeting liftoff January 22nd. Teams at Cape Canaveral are integrating the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon Endeavour spacecraft that will ferry the 4 person civilian crew to the International Space Station for 8 days.
In parallel, SpaceX continues preparing for the highly anticipated first orbital launch attempt of the gargantuan Starship heavy lift vehicle under development in Texas. Teams are targeting late January for this mission pending receipt of a launch license from the FAA.
The latest Starlink launch showcases the rapid launch cadence SpaceX has achieved with reusable Falcon 9 rockets. Reliability upgrades being tested aim to push the boundaries even further for faster turnaround times. With Starship on the horizon, SpaceX is gearing up for unprecedented levels of activity launching satellites and venturing deeper into space.
SpaceX 2024 Launch Manifest
|Starlink 6-37 (Starlink satellites)
|Polaris Dawn Ax-1 (First private crew to ISS)
|Orbital test flight
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