After a minor issue at sea triggered a ~23-hour delay, a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket lifted off without issue on April 28th, carrying an expendable upper stage and 60 Starlink internet satellites as part of its seventh launch and SpaceX’s ninth Starlink mission in 2021 alone.
As is now routine, Falcon 9 booster B1060 burned its nine Merlin 1D (M1D) engines for approximately two and a half minutes and separated from the integrated second stage and payload, which ignited a lone Merlin Vacuum (MVac) engine and continued on its way to orbit. During that approximately six-minute-long second stage burn, B1060 flipped to point its aft end towards the atmosphere, crested to an apogee greater than 120 km (~75 mi), performed a reentry burn to slow down and limit heating, and aced its seventh drone ship landing in ten months.
Known as Starlink-24, the mission is SpaceX’s two-dozenth operational Starlink launch since ‘v1.0’ satellite launches began less than 18 months ago. Including an earlier batch of 60 v0.9 Starlink prototypes launched in May 2019, the vast majority of which have been intentionally deorbited, SpaceX has now launched more than 1500 Starlink satellites. Of the 1450 operational spacecraft launched in 17 months, 1435 remain in orbit and some 1430 – 98.6% – are still under SpaceX’s control. With Starlink-24 complete, SpaceX may also possess more active Starlink satellites in orbit than all other commercial satellites combined.
As previously discussed on Teslarati, several sources suggest that Starlink-24 will kick off an extremely busy May and June launch manifest for SpaceX.
“Starlink-24 should also be SpaceX’s third and final launch this April, opening the door for as many as four more Starlink launches (Starlink-25 through Starlink-28) in May, according to Next Spaceflight. Spaceflight Now reports that Starlink-25 is scheduled to launch in “early May,” possibly just a few days to a week after Starlink-24. All four of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 boosters (B1049, B1051, B1058, B1060) would have to fly once – and one booster twice – to launch Starlink-24 through Starlink-28 between now and the end of May.
No earlier than (NET) June 1st, a Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch radio provider SiriusXM’s SXM-8 radio satellite. SpaceX is scheduled to launch its second upgraded Cargo Dragon spacecraft as early as June 3rd, just two days after SXM-8. Last but likely not least, launch photographer Ben Cooper reports that a flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch the US military’s fifth upgraded GPS III navigation satellite on June 17th.”
Teslarati.com – 27 April 2021
Including Starlink-24, that means that SpaceX appears to have up to eight Falcon 9 launches scheduled in the next seven weeks and possibly even a ninth or tenth mission in the last two weeks of June. Starlink-24 is SpaceX’s 12th launch this year, leaving the company firmly on track to complete at least 36 orbital launches in 2021 – nearly 40% more than its current record of 26 launches completed in 2020.
Rewatch – and catch the tail end of – SpaceX’s Starlink-24 webcast below.