SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to kick off busy month of launches with 10th Starlink mission

A Falcon 9 rocket is set to kick off a busy July of launches with SpaceX's tenth Starlink mission. (Richard Angle)

A Falcon 9 rocket is set to kick off a busy July of launches with SpaceX’s tenth Starlink satellite mission and second Starlink rideshare, while also (hopefully) solidifying Falcon 9 reusability.

For Falcon 9 booster B1051, the Starlink V1 L9 mission will be its fifth launch, making it the third SpaceX rocket to fly on five separate orbital-class missions. If B1051 manages to successfully land aboard drone ship of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) some 630 km (~390 mi) off the coast of Florida, it will also become the second Falcon 9 booster to launch and land five times in a row.

Starlink-9 is just one of four separate launches SpaceX has scheduled this month, following a ~10-day delay that prevented June 2020 from becoming the company’s first four-launch month. The mission will also be the eighth Starlink launch this year, potentially leaving SpaceX 40% of the way to a 20-launch annual target roughly 52% of the way through the year.

A Falcon 9 rocket is set to kick off a busy July of launches with SpaceX’s tenth Starlink mission. (Richard Angle)

If successful, Falcon 9 B1051’s fifth launch and landing will make the booster just one of two to have accomplished the feat and survived after Falcon 9 B1049 completed its fifth launch on June 3rd, 2020. Back on March 14th, Falcon 9 booster B1048 technically became the first SpaceX rocket to successfully complete five orbital-class launches, although an extremely rare in-flight engine failure came close to prematurely ending the mission and fully precluded a successful landing.

B1049 has launched five times since September 2018. (SpaceX, SpaceX, SpaceX, Richard Angle, Richard Angle)
B1051 completed its fourth launch on April 22nd and returned to dry land three days later. (Richard Angle)
65 days after the rocket returned to port, B1051 is pictured here shortly before its launch was delayed from June 26th to July 8th. (Richard Angle)

SpaceX returned to flight barely one month later when Falcon 9 booster B1051 launched for the fourth time in support of the Starlink-6 mission, a strong sign that B1048’s engine failure was indeed caused by a mistake during refurbishment and not a design flaw. Since then, SpaceX has completed five missions, passing milestones like Crew Dragon’s inaugural NASA astronaut launch and Falcon 9’s first landing after an operational satellite launch for the US military.

Starlink-9 isn’t quite as groundbreaking but it still pushes SpaceX’s Starlink launches into the double-digits just 14 months after they began. Excluding the first Starlink v0.9 satellites SpaceX launched in May 2019, the company will have technically completed nine Starlink v1.0 launches in less than eight months if L1 V9 goes off without a hitch later today. All ~530 of those satellites can technically be counted on to one day serve high-quality internet to customers almost anywhere on Earth, while it’s unclear if the ~55 v0.9 satellites still in orbit will ever serve as part of the commercially operational constellation.

Two BlackSky LeoStella imaging satellites are stacked on top of 57 Starlink V1 L9 spacecraft. (SpaceX)

Starlink-9 will be SpaceX’s second Starlink rideshare and is set to carry two LeoStella-built BlackSky Earth imaging spacecraft into orbit (literally) on top of 57 Starlink v1.0 internet satellites. While the ~$2M in revenue SpaceX likely generated with the rideshare doesn’t come close to recouping the ~$25M spent on each Starlink launch, the cumulative value of 10-15% savings over dozens or hundreds of launches will be far more substantial than it might seem at first glance.

Regardless, Falcon 9 B1051, 57 Starlink satellites, and two rideshare passengers are scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39A no earlier than (NET) 11:59 am EDT (15:59 UTC) on July 8th. As usual, SpaceX will offer live coverage of the launch beginning around 15 minutes before liftoff.

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Eric Ralph: I write about space, among other things.
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