SpaceX drone ship heads to sea for Falcon 9’s next Starlink launch and landing

An upgraded SpaceX drone ship is ready for its fourth East Coast rocket recovery attempt. (SpaceX)

An upgraded SpaceX drone ship is headed roughly 630 kilometers (~390 mi) into the Atlantic Ocean to support Falcon 9’s next Starlink launch and landing.

SpaceX’s 11th Starlink launch this year alone, the mission will be the 12th operational (v1.0) launch and 13th Starlink launch overall, together representing some 700 operational satellites in orbit. According to a May 2020 interview with SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell, those public beta tests can only start after 14 Starlink launches are completed, while recent FCC filings show that SpaceX is only considering v1.0 satellites as part of the operational constellation. In other words, if successful, Starlink-12 would leave SpaceX just two launches away from a constellation large enough – or nearly so – to begin public internet service beta tests.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 rocket assigned to the mission will be on the verge of breaking SpaceX’s booster reuse turnaround record – currently set at 51 days between launches by the same booster assigned to Starlink-12.

Falcon 9 B1058 – pictured here on July 20th – has been assigned to Starlink-12. (SpaceX)

Known as Falcon booster 9 B1058, the SpaceX rocket became the first US vehicle to launch astronauts since 2011, sending NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft. After a successful May 30th launch, the spacecraft docked with the ISS roughly two days later and spent more than two months in orbit before returning to Earth in early August.

Meanwhile, booster B1058 kept busy while the spacecraft it launched was being put through its paces in orbit. On July 20th, the rocket crushed SpaceX’s turnaround record when it launched South Korea’s ANASIS II communications satellite just 51 days after supporting Crew Dragon’s inaugural astronaut launch. While that 51-day turnaround did break SpaceX’s previous record of 62 days, it also set a far loftier record, unseating NASA’s Space Shuttle to become the most rapidly reusable orbital-class rocket ever built.

(Richard Angle)
Falcon 9 booster B1058 is the first US rocket to launch astronauts in a decade. (SpaceX)

As of now, Falcon 9 B1058 is scheduled to launch Starlink-12 no earlier than (NET) 2:17 pm EDT (UTC-4) on Thursday, September 17th. Barring delays, that would represent a 59-day turnaround from the booster’s record-breaking second launch. If Starlink-12 launches by September 19th, B1058 will be the proud holder of both SpaceX’s first and second-place turnaround records and will have technically flown three times in ~110 days.

After Starlink-12, SpaceX aims to launch Starlink-13 in late-September month and has scheduled its third US military GPS III launch – featuring new Falcon 9 booster B1062 – no earlier than (NET) September 30th. While unlikely, if everything remains on schedule, September 2020 could be the first four-launch month in SpaceX’s history.

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SpaceX drone ship heads to sea for Falcon 9’s next Starlink launch and landing
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