June 20, 2024

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SpaceX launches its third Falcon 9 rocket in less than two days – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX launches its third Falcon 9 rocket in less than two days - Spaceflight Now
A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with the Globalstar FM15 satellite. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX moved a Global Star communications satellite into orbit early Sunday from Cape Canaveral, blasting off its third Falcon 9 rocket flight in 36 hours, the fastest sequence of three missions by any commercial launch company in history.

A backup spacecraft built more than a decade ago for Globalstar’s satellite phone and messaging network is positioned inside the payload shroud of a Falcon 9 rocket for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:27:36 a.m. EDT (0427:36). 36 GMT).

The Falcon 9 launched at Cape Canaveral with 1.7 million pounds of thrust from nine Merlin main engines. The motors directed their nozzles to guide the 229-foot (70-meter) rocket northeast from the space coast of Florida, lined up with an orbiter in the Globalstar satellite fleet.

The missile exceeded the speed of sound in about one minute, and shut down the boost stage after about two and a half minutes into flight. A few seconds later, the booster landed to head toward a SpaceX recovery platform, or unmanned ship, parked in the Atlantic Ocean east of Charleston, South Carolina.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 — which is 15 stories tall — landed on the drone ship about 10 minutes after take-off, adding the ninth flight into space to the booster’s record.

The upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket fired its single Merlin engine three times, stepping through various orbits before finally reaching an altitude of about 700 miles (1,126 km) to deploy the Globalstar FM15 communications satellite approximately two hours into the mission.

SpaceX said the upper stage has reached the mission’s target orbit, and officials celebrated the company’s third successful launch in less than two days.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off into the night sky after taking off from Cape Canaveral at 12:27 a.m. EDT (0427 GM) on Sunday. Credit: Michael Caine/Spaceflight Now/Coldlife Photography

The Falcon 9 mission trilogy began at 12:09 p.m. EDT (1609 GMT) Friday with the launch of 53 Starlink Internet satellites from the Kennedy Space Center. That mission set a record with the thirteenth flight of the reusable booster Falcon, which returned to land on one of SpaceX’s unmanned ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

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SpaceX teams at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California launched another Falcon 9 rocket at 10:19 a.m. EDT (7:19 a.m. PT; 1419 GMT) on Saturday using the German Army’s SARah 1 radar reconnaissance satellite. . The Falcon booster used in SARah 1 descended to Vandenberg to land.

With Sunday’s mission for Globalstar, SpaceX achieved three flights of the Falcon 9 in 36 hours and 18 minutes, the shortest of three missions achieved by any commercial rocket company.

The launches were the 158th, 159th, and 160th flights of the Falcon 9 rocket overall, and the 24th, 25th, and 26th Falcon 9 missions this year, in an effort to tally up the 26 SpaceX launches achieved in the entire year of 2020. to cross the launch mark of 31 – total from last year – by the end of July.

Company officials aim for more than 50 launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy in 2022.

Some aspects of Sunday’s launch have caused observers to raise questions about other spacecraft that may have been deployed alongside the Globalstar satellite.

SpaceX did not mention any other payloads in the live webcast or on the Globalstar mission page on its website.

But the Globalstar’s relatively light weight usually leaves enough fuel reserve on the Falcon 9’s booster to return to the descent. Instead, Sunday’s mission featured a landing on SpaceX’s offshore recovery platform.

An online live broadcast of SpaceX’s launch on Sunday did not show any camera sightings aboard the Global Star satellite until an hour into the mission, an unusual practice for a SpaceX commercial launch. When the live broadcast of the onboard camera began, the Globalstar satellite was visible mounted on a structure in the upper stage and appeared designed to accommodate other payloads.

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If there were additional satellites when they launched on Sunday, they were already deployed from a Falcon 9 rocket when live camera scenes began appearing in SpaceX’s webcast.

In another unusual move, Globalstar has not acknowledged any details about the launch of its additional satellite ahead of Sunday’s mission. Globalstar released a statement in its quarterly financial report last month saying it plans to launch a backup spacecraft in the “near future.” At that time, the company did not specify the backup satellite launcher.

Sunday’s launch was the first for the Globalstar satellite since 2013, and adds capacity to the company’s commercial network that provides voice and data connectivity to satellite phones, asset tracking and IoT applications.

Globalstar operates a fleet of dozens of communications satellites in low Earth orbit. The company did not respond to multiple requests for details about the upcoming launch.

The company launched 60 first-generation satellites, built by Space Systems/Loral, on Delta 2 and Soyuz rockets from 1998 through 2007. Globalstar added 24 second-generation satellites, built by Thales Alenia Space, on four rocket missions Soyuz from 2010 to 2013.

Globalstar satellites provide data communication to customers between 70 north and south latitude, and the company’s second generation of spacecraft is designed for an operational life of up to 15 years. The Thales-built Globalstar satellites are trapezoidal and feature 16 transmitters in the C and S-band and 16 receivers in the L and C band.

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SpaceX patch for the Globalstar FM15 mission. Credit: SpaceX

Globalstar is a competitor in the satellite phone and data relay market with companies such as Iridium, Inmarsat and Orbcomm. Globalstar announced in February that it was buying 17 new satellites from an industrial team led by MDA and Rocket Lab to extend the life of its planet.

The company expects to launch all 17 new satellites by the end of 2025. No new satellite launch service provider has been announced.

The $327 million contract for 17 new satellites is primarily funded by an unnamed “potential customer” for Globalstar services.

Globalstar has not revealed which organization is funding the new satellites, but the operator said last month it had signed a term sheet with a “large global customer” to begin deploying S-band services in the so-called “53-band” range of frequencies in the United States and other countries.

Globalstar said in its financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the unnamed customer also paid the majority of costs associated with the launch of the Globalstar FM15 satellite.

SpaceX plans to launch two more Falcon 9 rockets this month.

Another set of Starlink Internet satellites is scheduled to take off from the Kennedy Space Center next Saturday, June 25. A Falcon 9 rocket is being prepared for launch on June 28 from Panel 40 in Cape Canaveral with the SES 22 television broadcast satellite.

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