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

A Falcon 9 rocket takes off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with the Globalstar FM15 satellite. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launched a Globalstar communications satellite early Sunday from Cape Canaveral, departing the third Falcon 9 rocket flight in 36 hours, the fastest sequence of three missions from any commercial launch company in history.

An additional spacecraft built more than a decade ago for Globalstar’s satellite phone and messaging network was hidden inside the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload cover for departure from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:27:36 EDT (0427: 36 GMT).

Falcon 9 fired from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral with 1.7 million pounds of thrust from nine Merlin main engines. The engines vectored their nozzles to launch the 229-foot (70-meter) rocket northeast of Florida’s Space Coast, in line with an orbital aircraft in Globalstar’s satellite fleet.

The rocket surpassed the speed of sound in about one minute, hitting the booster stage about two and a half minutes after the flight. A few seconds later, the booster dropped to land on a SpaceX extraction platform, or drone ship, parked in the Atlantic Ocean east of Charleston, South Carolina.

Falcon 9’s first leg – itself 15 stories high – landed on the drone ship about 10 minutes after takeoff, adding a ninth trip to space to the booster’s logbook.

The upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket fired its single Merlin engine three times, passing through various orbits before finally reaching an altitude of around 700 miles (1126 kilometers) to deploy the Globalstar FM15 communications satellite almost two hours into the mission.

SpaceX said the top tier had reached its mission, with officials celebrating the company’s third successful launch in less than two days.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket extends through the night sky after departing from Cape Canaveral at 12:27 EDT (0427 GM) on Sunday. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The Trifecta for the Falcon 9 missions began at 12:09 EDT (1609 GMT) on Friday with the launch of 53 Starlink Internet satellites from the Kennedy Space Center. That mission set a record with the 13th flight of a reusable Falcon booster, which returned to land on one of SpaceX’s drone ships in the Atlantic.

The SpaceX team at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California launched another Falcon 9 rocket at 10:19 EDT (7:19 am PDT; 1419 GMT) on Saturday with the German military’s SARah 1 radar reconnaissance satellite. The Falcon booster used on SARah 1 went down Vandenberg for landing on land.

With Sunday’s mission for Globalstar, SpaceX achieved three Falcon 9 flights in 36 hours, 18 minutes, the shortest span between three missions that any commercial rocket company has achieved.

The launches marked the 158th, 159th and 160th flights of a Falcon 9 rocket in total, and the 24th, 25th and 26th Falcon 9 missions this year, and attempted the 26 launches SpaceX achieved throughout 2020. SpaceX is on. pace to surpass the 31-launch mark – a total of from last year – by the end of July.

The company’s officials are aiming for more than 50 launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy in 2022.

Some aspects of Sunday’s launch prompted observers to question other spacecraft that may have been deployed with the Globalstar satellite.

SpaceX did not mention any other payload in its live launch webcast or on the Globalstar mission page of the site.

But the relatively light weight of the Globalstar satellite will typically leave enough fuel reserve on the Falcon 9’s booster to return to landing. Instead, Sunday’s mission included a landing on SpaceX’s offshore mining platform.

The live webcast of Sunday’s launch provided by SpaceX showed no camera views aboard the Globalstar satellite until an hour into the mission, an unusual practice for SpaceX’s commercial launches. When the live camera views on board began to be broadcast live, the Globalstar satellite was visibly mounted on a structure on the upper stage that appeared to be designed to accommodate other payloads.

If there were more satellites on Sunday’s launch, they were already deployed from the Falcon 9 rocket when the live camera views began appearing on SpaceX’s webcast.

In another unusual move, Globalstar did not acknowledge any details about the launch of its extra satellite ahead of Sunday’s mission. Globalstar issued a statement in a quarterly financial report last month stating that they plan to launch the backup spacecraft in the “near future”. At that time, the company did not identify the launch vehicle for the reserve satellite.

The launch on Sunday was the first for a Globalstar satellite since 2013, adding capacity for the company’s commercial network that provides voice and data connectivity for satellite phones, asset tracking and internet-of-things applications.

Globalstar operates a fleet of dozens of low-Earth communications satellites. The company did not respond to further requests for details of the upcoming launch.

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

The Globalstar satellites provide data connectivity for customers between 70 degrees north and south, and the company’s second-generation spacecraft are designed for a 15-year operational life. The Thales-built Globalstar satellites are trapezoidal and have 16 transponders in C-band and S-band and 16 receivers in L-band and C-band.

SpaceX’s update 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 is purchasing 17 new satellites from an industry team led by MDA and Rocket Lab to extend the life of the constellation.

The company expects that all 17 new satellites will be launched by the end of 2025. A launch service provider for the new satellites has not been announced.

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

Globalstar has not revealed the organization that finances the new satellites, but the operator said last month that they have signed a term list with a “large, global customer” to start distributing S-band services in the so-called “Band 53” frequency range in the US and in other countries.

The unnamed customer also paid for most of the costs associated with the launch of the Globalstar FM15 satellite, Globalstar said in its financial submissions to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

SpaceX is planning two more launches of the Falcon 9 this month.

Another group of Starlink internet satellites is scheduled to take off from the Kennedy Space Center next Saturday, June 25. And a Falcon 9 rocket will be ready for launch on June 28 from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral with the SES 22 TV satellite.

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