Vandenberg Launches Resume, As SpaceX Prepares for Friday Double-Header

Vandenberg Launches Resume, As SpaceX Prepares for Friday Double-Header

The Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “Of Course I Still Love You”, is seen as B1071 prepares to touch down (left pane), while the second stage’s Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine glows hot for six minutes it “burns” to lift the 52-strong Starlink stack into orbit (right pane). Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX successfully launched its fifth Falcon 9 mission of the year from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., as it prepares for a pair of record-setting flights from opposite coasts of the United States in just four hours the interval. The current B1071 core—a dedicated “Vandenberg Falcon”, making its eighth journey into space—lifted off from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at the mountain-ringed West Coast launch site at 12:26 pm PDT Friday, carrying 52 Starlink internet communications satellites for placement in low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 350 miles (570 kilometers ), inclined 70 degrees to the equator.

Against the backdrop of a crystal clear sky, B1071 takes off on Friday. Image Credit: SpaceX

Friday’s launch brings the total number of Starlinks launched so far in 2023 to 440, delivered by nine missions from Vandenberg, floor Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station or historical Pad 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). All told, 4,103 of these flat-packed internet communications satellites have been lofted from May 2019.

Starlink now facilitates high-speed and low-latency internet provision in 50 sovereign countries and international markets, covering North and South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa. Just last month, Iceland, Rwanda and the Philippines—the first Starlink clients in Southeast Asia—officially signed up to the network.

B1071 is powered by just under 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kilograms) of thrust from its nine Merlin 1D+ engines. Image Credit: SpaceX

In preparation for Friday’s launch, the West Coast-based Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “Of Course I Still Love You”, sailed Tuesday out of the Port of Long Beach, Calif., to a recovery position in offshore in the Pacific Ocean. Late Thursday, SpaceX announced that it is aiming for a dual launch opportunity on Friday.

The first was at 12:26 pm PDT and the second at 4:24 pm PDT. A pair of backup tests were performed on Saturday at 12:12 pm PDT and 4:10 pm PDT.

The California coast is well visible, as seen from the B1071. Image Credit: SpaceX

Today’s flight is B1071, which previously flew seven times between her maiden outing in February 2022 and his most recent flight at the end of January. He opened his career with a pair of classified missions on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office, delivering top-secret NROL-87 and NROL-85 payloads in February and April 2022then Germany’s SARah-1 radar-imaging surveillance satellite was launched in mid-June and the NASA-led Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite for a three-year-plus survey of changing water bodies around the world last December.

Adding to that list, B1071 flew four Starlink batches—with a total of 199 satellites—on final missions. July, October, January and now. Four of her missions ended with on-point touchdowns on solid ground at Vandenberg’s Landing Zone (LZ)-4, while four others have now landed offshore on OCISLY’s broad deck.

Propelling the ascent smoothly under the thrust of her nine Merlin 1D+ engines, B1071 performed admirably as she became SpaceX’s ninth booster to log an eighth mission. Just in time, he separated from the Falcon 9 stack 2.5 minutes after liftoff and pirouetted into a smooth landing on the drone ship, concluding Vandenberg’s fifth flight of the year. and the second only in March.

The single Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine of the rocket’s second stage then took over, executing a long “burn”, lasting six minutes, to deliver the 52 Starlinks into orbit. Stack deployment occurred 15 minutes after launch.

As the dust and smoke cleared, B1071 wrapped up its eighth successful landing. Image Credit: SpaceX

Attention now turns to Florida and SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., where the second Falcon 9—the five times flown B1069—is targeting a launch at 7:38 pm EDT Friday, right at the opening of the 38-minute “window”. A backup opportunity, with a window spanning 37 minutes, opens at 7:38 pm EDT Saturday.

If tonight’s inaugural launch attempt is successful, SpaceX will set a new record of four hours and 12 minutes between two Falcon 9 flights. The current “personal best” set in Octoberbetween launching in Florida of Dragon Endurance and his Crew-5 quartet of NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japan’s Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina—up for a five-month stay on the International Space Station (ISS)—and a Vandenberg Starlink mission, seven hours and ten minutes later. Of note, B1071 flew on the October 2022 Starlink mission, making it half responsible for setting both empirical records.

B1069 last flew last month. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Weather on the Space Coast for tonight’s second launch of the day looks favorable, with an 80-percent chance of acceptable, though a sharp drop to just 35-percent-favorable is expected for backup attempt on Saturday. As the next cold front approaches Florida from the west, high pressure will retreat over the Atlantic, according to the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Space Force Base, in their L-1 update Thursday.

“The front will move over the Florida Panhandle during the evening,” it said. “This set up will bring southerly winds, moving to the southeast and it will be rough in the late afternoon and evening behind the sea breeze.”

B1069 launched the Hotbird 13F geostationary communications satellite last fall. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Tonight’s potential showstoppers include the danger posed by near-surface liftoff winds. But as a cold front moves into East Central Florida on Saturday, the 45th explained that weather conditions are “deteriorating”, with high chances of showers, storms and increasing cloud cover.

Aiming to take advantage of Friday’s favorable outlook, B1069 is preparing for its sixth launch, joining SpaceX’s growing booster fleet in December 2021. Almost lost after her first flight in an uplifting ASDS touchdown, she underwent major repairs—including a new suite of Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines—and went on to fly three times in 2022.

SpaceX’s B1069 booster returned to Landing Zone (LZ)-1 at the Cape after launching the first batch of OneWeb satellites in December. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

He raised 54 Starlinks into orbit in Augustfollowed by Eutelsat’s Hotbird 13F geostationary communications satellite in mid-October and 40 broadband satellites early December for OneWeb based in London, England. A fifth flight just last month saw him deliver another Starlink batch to the Falcon 9 fleet’s 200th fully successful launch.

Aboard B1069 for tonight’s launch are the dual-stacked SES-18 and SES-19 geostationary satellites, flying on behalf of Luxembourg-based telecommunications provider SES. Built by Northrop Grumman Corp.SES-18 and SES-19 will utilize the capabilities of its GeoStar-3 satellite “bus” and be equipped with ten C-band transponders to facilitate the broadcast of digital television to nearly 120 million homes.

The SES-18 and SES-19 communications satellites will facilitate television broadcasting capabilities to 120 million homes. Photo Credit: SES

These two satellites are part of a group of four SES birds—of which the first pair, SES-20 and SES-21board the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V to orbit early last fall—to lead an ongoing campaign to accelerate SES’s C-band clearing plan and meet the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) goal of freeing up spectrum for 5G terrestrial wireless service. SpaceX was chosen in June 2020 as the launch service provider for the SES-18 and SES-19 missions.

After boosting Falcon 9 to altitude for the opening 2.5 minutes of tonight’s launch, B1069 will return to the deck of East Coast-based ASDS, “Just Read the Instructions”, which departed Port Canaveral on Sunday and is positioned some 410 miles (660 kilometers) offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket’s Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine will perform a pair of “burns” to establish the right conditions to deploy SES-18 at 32 minutes and SES-19 at 37 minutes into flight.

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