SpaceX set to launch its 100th Mission with Starlink and SkySat
SpaceX is on the cusp of launching its 100th mission, due to loft the eleventh batch of Starlink satellites on Tuesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, atop their Falcon 9 rocket. Along with the 58 Starlink satellites, housed within the rockets payload fairing will be a ride share of three SkySat Earth-imaging smallsats for Planet Labs. This launch, the 92nd Falcon 9 mission, will also be the first time in SpaceX history that a single rocket booster, B1049.6, will be flown for the sixth time.
These are two significant milestones in the history of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s revolutionary venture into spaceflight. Beginning in 2006 with the first failed launch attempt of the Falcon 1 rocket, the company’s efforts have since been rewarded and they have found considerable success with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Despite having minor setbacks with early failures, such as the launch of CRS-7, The company has also reached great success, with multiple recoveries and re-flights of payload fairings, and first stage rockets.
Starlink, this mission’s primary payload, aims to deliver high-speed, low-latency internet service to otherwise under served parts of the planet. SpaceX has already begun the roll out for its initial rounds of beta testing to Starlink customers in specific areas across the United States and Canada. In a tweet from company CEO Elon Musk, the Starlink user connection terminals were reviewed to be roughly the size of a dinner plate, and shaped similarly to that of a flying saucer. It is promised that operating these terminals will be ultra simple, and only consist of two steps: plug in, and point to the sky. The terminals will be mechanized and will feature the ability to change positions depending on the location of the orbiting satellites.
The SkySat constellation consists of small, sub-meter resolution earth-observing satellites developed by Planet Labs, a private Earth imaging company based in San Francisco. Known affectionately as Doves, the in house designed CubeSats serve a primary purpose of high-resolution imaging, as well as being able to perform a multitude of analytical functions. Each satellite features a high-powered telescope and camera that points towards the earth, and continuously scans the earth’s surface, sending the data back to ground stations for researchers to analyze. These images will further help people understand, in real time, the effects of climate change as well as aid in crop farming, land surveying, and disaster relief.
The mission profile for this flight should mirror that of previous Starlink missions. Once Falcon 9 departs the launch pad, the vehicle will begin to pitch downrange in a north-easterly direction, carrying the rocket up the Eastern coast of the United States. For this mission, SpaceX will be attempting to land the first-stage booster on the company’s autonomous drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You.” In addition to landing the first stage, SpaceX will also be attempting to catch both fairing halves from the twin recovery vessels “Go Ms. Tree” and “Go Ms. Chief.”
The launch is set to fly from Launch Complex 40 at 10:31 a.m. EDT, mid-way through the 11 minute 10:26 a.m. window. Weather has been forecast for a 80% chance of favorable launch conditions, with the primary concern for violation being the cumulus cloud rule. If for some reason SpaceX is not able to launch within the launch window on Tuesday, a backup opportunity is available approximately 24 hours later.
Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.