Bringing more than six weeks of delays to a welcome end, SpaceX has – for the second time ever – successfully launched and landed the same Falcon 9 booster five times, sending a stack of Starlink satellites and two rideshare payloads on their way to orbit.
At 1:12 am EDT (05:12 UTC) on Friday, August 7th, Falcon 9 booster B1051, a fresh upper stage and payload fairing, 57 Starlink v1.0 satellites, and two BlackSky Earth imaging spacecraft successfully lifted off. Around nine minutes after departing Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39A, better known as Pad 39A, booster B1051 completed a gentle landing aboard drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY).
Located some 630 km (~390 mi) downrange, this was the fourth time the SpaceX drone ship had departed Florida’s Port Canaveral in support of Starlink V1 L9 (Starlink-9) launch attempts. Thankfully, especially for the recovery teams tasked with repeatedly sailing out and back empty-handed, B1051’s fifth successful landing brings that wild goose chase to an end.
Around 45 minutes after launch, a SpaceX engineer and webcast host revealed that the company was, unfortunately, unable to complete two back-to-back Falcon 9 fairing catches, although recovery ships Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief should still be able to fish the Starlink-9 halves out of the water. About an hour after liftoff, Falcon 9’s upper stage successfully deployed both BlackSky rideshare payloads and followed that up with the successful deployment of 57 new Starlink satellites shortly thereafter.
While Starlink-9 was originally scheduled to launch as early as June 23rd, Principal Integration Engineer John Insprucker – a familiar fixture and voice on SpaceX webcasts – was quick to note that through the more than six subsequent weeks of delays, “Falcon 9 has been trouble-free.” He also partially answered the main question on everyone’s mind, noting that all of those delays could be traced back to bad weather and issues with the mission’s payloads.
He didn’t specify which payloads, suggesting that it may have primarily been related to BlackSky’s two satellites given that throwing a customer under the bus would be in extremely bad taste for a launch provider. Regardless, SpaceX has finally completed the mission and can now move on to greener Starlink pastures and a number of interesting upcoming missions.
Notably, the next two non-Starlink launches currently on SpaceX’s manifest are SAOCOM 1B – the first polar orbit launch from the East Coast in half a century – and Crew-1 – Crew Dragon’s first operational astronaut launch. Scheduled no earlier than late-August and late-September, respectively, both major customer missions are likely to be punctuated by several Starlink launches over the next two months. With Starlink-9 complete, SpaceX could be just 4-5 missions away from rolling out Starlink internet service according to a comment from COO/President Gwynne Shotwell that service could begin after the 14th Starlink launch.
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