Successful launch, landing for SpaceX Starlink-6 mission
SpaceX successfully launched their next 60 Starlink satellites, lifting off at 3:30pm (EDT) on April 22 from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex (LC-) 39A. As the seventh launch of production satellites (the eighth in total) of the program, this raises the total number of in-orbit, operational Starlink satellites to 420. About 8 minutes following the launch, an important secondary priority of the launch was also realized, as recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage aboard the SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You”, which was staged about 630 kilometers down range, was confirmed. This marked the fourth launch and landing for this specific first stage, B1051, and as noted by Ars Technica, marks the 84th launch of a Falcon 9, surpassing the mission count for competitor United Launch Alliance’s venerable Atlas V.
Following a seven-day delay, SpaceX’s launch of Starlink 6 was able to move slightly to the “left” (one day earlier) in order to capitalize on a favorable weather system. After two back-to-back unsuccessful booster landings, this landing of the Falcon 9 first stage is significant as it allows SpaceX to maintain its pace and schedule for Demo-2 (or DM-2), which is set to see the return of American astronauts launching from American soil after a nine year pause. Demo-2 is currently planned to launch no earlier than (NET) May 27, 2020 and would fly from the same historic launch pad used during today’s launch, LC-39A.
As more Starlink satellites are launched, there are both supporters and detractors of the program. On the positive side and core to SpaceX’s stated purpose, Starlink is preparing to deliver high speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable. The benefit of this might be difficult to fully appreciate from one’s well-connected work or living space, but a reliable data exchange system able to service distant and otherwise ‘dark’ areas will be of immense value to those users. On the other side of the discussion are astronomers, writers and scientists in the space community, who remain concerned about the overall influence of the fully-configured constellation. Responding to public questions and concerns via Twitter, Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX, displayed his intention to deliver results to both audiences: “We are taking some key steps to reduce satellite brightness [by the way]. Should be much less noticeable during orbit raise by changing solar panel angle & all sats get sunshades starting with launch 9.” For a more in-depth exploration of the background and developments on the topic, the Daily Mail has published a collection of supporting images and discussion.
Launching amid the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presented some planning challenges, but SpaceX successfully implemented a stringent personnel protection protocol for members of the press who were onsite for the launch, ensuring a high level of compliance with regards to the Coronavirus guidelines for the safety and health of others. Masks, gloves and a minimal social distancing amount of 10 feet was strictly enforced at all times. With Demo-2 scheduled to launch in just over a month from now, this was a glimpse into what measures NASA may put into effect, as they respond to the large amount of media expected for that historic launch, the first time astronauts will launch to the International Space Station aboard a commercial spacecraft.
Report prepared by Theresa Cross, with contribution from Sean Costello.
Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.