Direct coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Starlink 4-19 mission launched SpaceX’s next group of 53 Starlink broadband satellites. Follow us on Twitter.
SpaceX launched a reusable Falcon 9 booster for a record-breaking 13th time Friday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, launching 53 more Starlink Internet satellites. Lifting from cushion 39A took place at 12:09 EDT (1609 GMT).
Falcon 9 traveled northeast from Kennedy to deliver the flat-packed broadband relay stations to an orbit ranging between 144 miles and 209 miles in elevation (232 x 337 kilometers). The deployment of the 53 flat-packed satellites from the upper steps of the Falcon 9 took place approximately 15 minutes after the ascent.
The launch starts a busy weekend for SpaceX, with two more Falcon 9 flights in print Saturday and Sunday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, then from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, a few miles south of the Kennedy Space Center.
With Friday’s mission, SpaceX has launched 2706 Starlink Internet satellites, including prototypes and test units that are no longer in use, almost an order of magnitude more spacecraft than any other spacecraft fleet. The launch on Friday marked the 48th SpaceX mission primarily dedicated to orbiting Starlink Internet satellites.
Stationed inside a firing range at the Kennedy Launch Control Center, SpaceX’s launch team began loading supercooled, condensed paraffin and liquid oxygen into the 229-foot (70-meter-high) Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes Friday.
Helium pressure medium also flowed into the rocket during the last half hour of the countdown. In the last seven minutes before launch, Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines were thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “chilldown”. Falcon 9’s guidance and range security systems were also configured for launch at 12:09:20
SpaceX’s launch team postponed the start time by 30 seconds during the countdown on Friday. Officials did not say why they adjusted the launch time.
After the ascent, the 229-foot (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket vectored its 1.7 million-pound thrust – produced by nine Merlin engines – to steer northeast across the Atlantic.
The rocket exceeded the speed of sound by about one minute, and then shut down the nine main engines two and a half minutes after takeoff. The booster detached from the upper stage of the Falcon 9, then fired pulses from cold gas control thrusters and expanded titanium grille fins to help steer the vehicle back to the atmosphere.
Two brake burns braked the rocket before landing on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” about 400 miles (650 kilometers) down range about eight and a half minutes after takeoff.
The booster stage that flies on Friday – tail number B1060 – set a new record for becoming the most flying member of SpaceX’s fleet of reusable rockets. It debuted on June 30, 2020, with the launch of a GPS navigation satellite for the US military, and then flew again in September and October 2020 on a Starlink mission.
It was launched six times in 2021 with the geostationary communications satellite Türksat 5A, four Starlink missions and SpaceX’s Transporter 2 small satellite missions. Friday’s launch was the booster’s fourth flight in 2022, all dedicated missions for the Starlink network.
SpaceX has qualified Falcon 9 boosters for at least 15 missions, up from the previous design life of 10 flights for each Falcon 9 first stage.
The landing of the first stage on Friday’s mission took place moments before the Falcon 9’s second stage engine stopped to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. Separation of the 53 spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, was confirmed by T + plus 15 minutes and 26 seconds.
Holding rods detached from the Starlink payload stack, so that the flat-packed satellites can fly free from Falcon 9’s upper step in orbit. The 53 spacecraft will deploy solar panels and run through automated activation stages, then use krypton-powered ion motors to maneuver into their operational orbit.
Falcon 9’s guidance computer aimed to distribute the satellites in an elliptical orbit between 144 and 209 miles in altitude, with an orbit inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use propulsion on board to do the rest of the work to reach a circular orbit 335 miles (540 kilometers) above the earth.
The launch on Friday was the first to place Starlink satellites in an elliptical transmission path at a lower altitude since February, when aerodynamic resistance produced by a solar storm caused nearly 40 Starlink satellites to re-enter the atmosphere shortly after launch. Since then, all of SpaceX’s Starlink launches have included two combustion engines in the upper steps to climb to a higher spacecraft orbit.
The Starlink satellites on Friday’s mission will fly in one of five orbital “shells” used in SpaceX’s global Internet network. After reaching its operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin sending broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network with a SpaceX-supplied ground terminal.
ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1060.13)
BENEFIT LOAD: 53 Starlink Satellites (Starlink 4-19)
LAUNCH PLACE: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
LAUNCH DATE: June 17, 2022
LAUNCH TIME: 12:09:20 pm EDT (1609: 20 GMT)
WEATHER NOTICE: 90% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of wind at the upper level; Low risk of adverse conditions for booster recovery
BOOSTER RECOVERY: “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone ship east of Charleston, South Carolina
LAUNCH ASIMUTH: Northeast
MÅLORBIT: 144 miles x 209 miles (232 kilometers x 337 kilometers), 53.2 degree incline
- T + 00: 00: Ascent
- T + 01: 12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
- T + 02: 27: First stage main engine failure (MECO)
- T + 02: 30: Stage separation
- T + 02: 37: Second stage engine ignition
- T + 02: 42: Cover shock
- T + 06: 47: Combustion ignition in first stage (three engines)
- T + 07: 07: Combustion interruption at the first stage
- T + 08: 24: First stage landing combustion (one engine)
- T + 08: 35: First stage landing
- T + 08: 45: Engine stop in second stage (SECO 1)
- T + 15: 26: Starlink satellite separation
- 158th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
- 166th launch of the Falcon rocket family since 2006
- 13th launch of the Falcon 9 booster B1060
- 138. Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
- 50. SpaceX launch from pad 39A
- 144. launch overall from pad 39A
- 100th flight of a recycled Falcon 9 booster
- 48th dedicated Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites
- 24. Falcon 9 launch in 2022
- 24th launch of SpaceX in 2022
- 25th orbital launch attempt based on Cape Canaveral in 2022
Email the author.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.