SpaceX navy deploys for back-to-back Italian radar satellite, Starlink launches

Bob and Doug are two of up to six SpaceX ships likely to be simultaneously deployed by this weekend. (Richard Angle)

Continuing what appears to be SpaceX’s preferred pace of activity in 2022, several ships in the company’s navy have deployed to support two Falcon 9 launches scheduled later this week.

A fourth ship will likely head into the Pacific late this week or early next for a third launch, a fifth ship will depart for a different fairing recovery mission near the Bahamas, and a sixth SpaceX ship is sailing back to Florida’s East Coast after recovering a Dragon spacecraft from the Gulf of Mexico. Had all three of the Falcon 9 launches planned over the next week required a drone ship for booster recovery, almost the entirety of SpaceX’s navy – eight of nine SpaceX-leased/owned ships and up to two tugboats – might have simultaneously been at sea by this weekend.

Instead, the rare back-to-back alignment of two commercial missions that will both allow SpaceX to perform return-to-launch-site (RTLS) Falcon 9 booster landings will only require the deployment of one drone ship and up to six ships total within the next few days.

Four or five of the six SpaceX ships pictured here will likely be at sea for several different rocket recovery missions by this weekend. (Richard Angle)

Those seven or so ships will be simultaneously supporting four different recovery missions. GO Searcher recovered a SpaceX Cargo Dragon from the Gulf of Mexico on January 24th and is headed back Port Canaveral to drop the spacecraft off for cargo removal, inspections, and refurbishment. Searcher should arrive around Saturday or Sunday. On January 25th, SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas left Port Canaveral behind tugboat Zion M Falgout and are headed about 650 kilometers (~400 mi) southeast to recover a Falcon 9 booster scheduled to launch Starlink 4-7 as early as 3pm EST (20:00 UTC), Saturday, January 29th. Zion will likely serve as the support ship for SpaceX’s recovery crew.

Two hours later, support ship Bob departed the same port but more or less headed due south, where it will recover Falcon 9’s payload fairing halves north of Cuba after the rocket’s scheduled 6:11 pm EST (23:11 UTC), Thursday, January 27th launch of the Italian CSG-2 Earth observation satellite. Identical sister ship Doug will likely leave Port Canaveral on January 26th or 27th for Starlink 4-7 fairing recovery.

On the West Coast, SpaceX ship NRC Quest or GO Quest will likely depart Port of Long Beach on January 30th or 31st to recover a third payload fairing after Falcon 9’s planned February 2nd launch of the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-87 spy satellite(s). After launching NROL-87, Falcon 9’s first stage boost back to Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) and land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) pad.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has as many as four more Starlink missions – three out of Florida and one out of California – potentially scheduled to launch in February 2022.

SpaceX navy deploys for back-to-back Italian radar satellite, Starlink launches
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