SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch 14th Starlink mission on Sunday

Falcon 9 booster B1051 is scheduled to become the third SpaceX rocket to attempt to launch and land five times. (Richard Angle)

Spaceflight Now reports that a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is five days out from the company’s 14th dedicated Starlink launch, also the 13th launch of operational satellites and 12th launch this year.

While approximately 50% short of SpaceX’s turn-of-the-year target of 20-24 Starlink launches in 2020, the company’s average of one mission every ~25 days has quickly made Starlink the largest satellite constellation ever launched by a factor of ~5. More importantly, once the 60 Starlink-12 satellites launched earlier this month boost themselves to their final orbits, CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX will be ready to kick off Starlink’s first public beta tests.

Spaceflight Now and LaunchPhotography.com both report that SpaceX is scheduled to launch Starlink V1 L13 (Starlink-13) no earlier than (NET) 8:27am EDT (11:27 UTC) on Sunday, October 18th.

Following Starlink-12’s October 6th launch, Starlink-13 is scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39A (Pad 39A) as few as 12 days later, within arm’s reach of SpaceX’s nine-day pad turnaround record. The company has managed to repeatedly turn both of its East Coast pads (LC-40 and Pad 39A) around in less than two weeks this year, demonstrating a taste of what SpaceX will need to make routine to achieve Elon Musk’s goal of 48 launches in 2021.

NextSpaceflight reports that SpaceX has assigned Falcon 9 booster B1051 to Starlink-13, setting the rocket up for its sixth flight since May 2019 and fourth launch this year. Hot off the ship’s sixth successful Falcon fairing catch, recovery ship GO Ms. Tree (formerly Mr. Steven) briefly departed Port Canaveral on October 13th – likely preparing for another catch attempt during Starlink-13.

GO Ms. Tree was also out and about when Starlink-12 booster B1058 returned to port aboard drone ship OCISLY. (Richard Angle)

Meanwhile, to reach the Starlink-13 booster recovery zone ~630 km (~390 mi) northeast of Cape Canaveral, one of SpaceX’s two drone ships (OCISLY or JRTI) will need to leave its berth within the next day or two. SpaceX has a five-day margin for Starlink-13 launch delays before ULA’s latest NROL-44 launch attempt once again takes precedence – this time on October 23rd.

If successful, Falcon 9 booster B1051 will follow in the footsteps of B1049 to become the second orbital-class rocket booster ever to launch and land six times, continuing SpaceX’s confident march towards Falcon 9 Block 5’s 10-flight design goal. Barring a surprise, B1051’s Starlink-13 assignment also implies that Falcon 9 B1049 may be up next for Starlink-14, marking the first seventh flight of an orbital-class booster.

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