SpaceX wraps up Falcon 9 launch, sends drone ship to sea for the next one

One SpaceX drone ship leaves as another returns. (Richard Angle)

SpaceX’s two East Coast drone ships have passed each other by as one returned from the company’s most recent Falcon 9 launch and the other headed to sea for the next one.

An unsurprising consequence of SpaceX’s extraordinary 2022 launch cadence goal, it just so happened that the company’s next launch was scheduled such that the upcoming Starlink mission’s drone ship left Port Canaveral at almost the exact moment that another drone ship was returning from its last launch. The timing was so perfect that the two converted barges sailed past each other just a thousand or so feet apart and just a few thousand feet outside of the mouth of the port both call home.

Drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) was returning to port after about a week at sea with Falcon 9 booster B1062, which successfully launched Egypt’s Nilesat-301 communications satellite into a supersynchronous geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) on June 8th. Heading in the opposite direction, drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG) – towed by support ship Doug – left port and began its journey about 650 kilometers (~400 mi) downrange to support Starlink 4-19, SpaceX’s next launch.

As one SpaceX drone ship returns to port, the other is towed out to sea. (Richard Angle)

Nilesat-301 was SpaceX’s 23rd launch of 2022 and Falcon 9 B1062’s seventh launch overall, as well as the booster’s sixth launch in less than 12 months. In early 2022, CEO Elon Musk announced that SpaceX was targeting an average of one launch per week throughout the calendar year. He later revised that target to 60 launches or 1.15 launches per week after a few months of undeniable success. Set in 2021, SpaceX’s annual record is 31 Falcon launches, followed by 26 in 2020. In 2022, SpaceX is on track to launch more than 26 times in the first half of the year. In fact, after Nilesat-301, the company has another five missions tentatively scheduled to launch in June for a total of 28 in H1 2022 if all manage to avoid significant delays.

Falcon 9 B1062 before, during, and after its seventh orbital-class launch and landing. (Richard Angle)

Starlink 4-19 is scheduled to launch from SpaceX’s NASA Kennedy Space Center LC-39A pad no earlier than (NET) 10:50 am EDT (14:50 UTC) on Friday, June 17th. SpaceX’s schedule for the mission will be exceptionally tight and likely offer few – if any – backup opportunities before the end of the month, owing to the company’s need to launch Cargo Dragon on a NASA space station resupply mission as early as June 28th. Unless CRS-25’s launch date has slipped again, the current schedule leaves SpaceX only a handful of days to convert Pad 39A back into its Dragon configuration immediately after Starlink 4-19.

While merely the 48th in a long line of dedicated Starlink internet satellite launches, Starlink 4-19 will be an important mission for SpaceX for a number of other reasons. First, it will be the 100th reuse of a Falcon booster since the first in March 2017. If all goes well, it will also mark SpaceX’s 50th consecutively successful Falcon booster landing. Perhaps most significantly, Starlink 4-19 could be Falcon 9’s 130th consecutively successful launch campaign – just four successes away from breaking the world record of 133 consecutive successes set by variants of Russia’s Soyuz/R-7 rocket.

SpaceX is also scheduled to launch Germany’s SARah-1 radar satellite and a group of rideshare payloads out of California no earlier than (NET) June 18th. Another mysterious launch is scheduled out of SpaceX’s LC-40 Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) pad as early as June 19th. Finally, two more Falcon 9 rockets are scheduled to launch the SES-22 geostationary communications satellite on June 27th or 28th and Cargo Dragon’s CRS-25 resupply mission on June 28th.

Eric Ralph: Eric Ralph is Teslarati's senior spaceflight reporter and has been covering the industry in some capacity for almost half a decade, largely spurred in 2016 by a trip to Mexico to watch Elon Musk reveal SpaceX's plans for Mars in person. Aside from spreading interest and excitement about spaceflight far and wide, his primary goal is to cover humanity's ongoing efforts to expand beyond Earth to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere.
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