SpaceX has static fired a record-breaking Falcon 9 booster and says it’s ready to launch its 14th Starlink mission this year just a day and a half after sailing past the company’s previous annual launch record.
Set in 2018, SpaceX’s previous annual launch record stood at 21 missions – 20 Falcon 9s and one Falcon Heavy. Now, a little over halfway through November, SpaceX has easily bested itself, launching for the 22nd time to deliver oceanographic satellite Sentinel 6A to a polar orbit on November 21st.
Back on the East Coast, SpaceX fired up six-flight Falcon 9 booster B1049 just five hours after Sentinel 6A’s successful launch, setting the rocket up for its seventh flight – a first for SpaceX and reusable rocketry – in support of Starlink v1.0 Flight 15 (Starlink-15).
Following an apparent November 20th static fire abort and a brief 24-hour delay, B1049 is now scheduled to lift off no earlier than 9:56 pm EST (02:56 UTC), November 22nd with some 16 metric tons (~35,000 lb) of Starlink communications satellites in tow. Designed to ultimately blanket the Earth in affordable high-quality broadband internet, SpaceX has already begun to roll out a public beta test to what looks like one or several thousand users across the northern US and southern Canada.
Speaking on a November 21st Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread, one of the SpaceX Starlink engineers participating revealed that the company is targeting a “wider beta” rollout as early as late-January 2021. Despite having some 820 functioning Starlink satellites in orbit, approximately a third were recently launched and are still raising their orbits or waiting in phasing orbits to properly orient themselves and maximize Starlink internet coverage.
While it’s effectively impossible to predict which orbital ‘plane’ a given batch of Starlink satellites is targeting, it’s likely that the ~300 spacecraft still making their way to operational orbits will complete their journeys within the next 60 days. In general, it takes roughly 2-3 months from any given Starlink launch for all ~60 satellites to reach their operational 550 km (~340 mi) orbits, a process usually performed in batches of 22 – each essentially representing one evenly-space ring of internet coverage a few hundred miles wide.
Despite SpaceX tracking towards a truly record-breaking year of ~25+ launches, CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company is pushing to achieve as many as 48 launches in 2021, more than half of which would likely be Starlink missions.
Tune in below to catch SpaceX’s Sunday Starlink launch live later tonight.
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