Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Starlink 4-26 mission will launch SpaceX’s next batch of 53 Starlink broadband satellites. Follow us on Twitter.
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket and 52 more Starlink internet satellites Tuesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The commercial mission took off bound for low Earth orbit at 10:14 p.m. EDT (0214 GMT), and the Falcon 9’s reusable first stage landed on an offshore drone ship.
The launch team bypassed a launch opportunity at 6:57 p.m. EDT (2257 GMT) due to unfavorable upper level winds.
The Falcon 9 rocket headed northeast from the Kennedy Space Center, aiming to deliver the flat-packed broadband relay stations to an orbit ranging between 144 miles and 208 miles in altitude (232-by-338 kilometers). Deployment of the 52 flat-packed satellites from the Falcon 9’s upper stage occurred about 15 minutes after liftoff.
With Tuesday’s mission, designated Starlink 4-26, SpaceX has launched 3,009 Starlink internet satellites, including prototypes and test units no longer in service. The launch Tuesday marked the 54th SpaceX mission primarily dedicated to hauling Starlink internet satellites into orbit.
Stationed inside a firing room at a launch control center at Kennedy, SpaceX’s launch team began loading super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes.
Helium pressurant also flowed into the rocket in the last half-hour of the countdown. In the final seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines were thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “chilldown.” The Falcon 9’s guidance and range safety systems were also configured for launch.
After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket vectored its 1.7 million pounds of thrust — produced by nine Merlin engines — to steer northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket exceeded the speed of sound in about one minute, then shut down its nine main engines two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. The booster stage released from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired pulses from cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grid fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.
Two braking burns slowed the rocket for landing on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” around 400 miles (650 kilometers) downrange approximately eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.
The booster that flew on the Starlink 4-26 mission, known as B1073, launched on its third trip to space. It debuted in May with a previous launch for the Starlink program, then flew again June 29 with the commercial SES 22 television broadcasting satellite.
Landing of the first stage on Tuesday’s mission occurred moments after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine cut off to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. Separation of the 52 spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket was confirmed at T+plus 15 minutes, 24 seconds.
Retention rods released from the Starlink payload stack, allowing the flat-packed satellites to fly free from the Falcon 9’s upper stage in orbit. The 52 spacecraft will unfurl solar arrays and run through automated activation steps, then use krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.
The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aimed deploy the satellites into an elliptical orbit at an inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use on-board propulsion to do the rest of the work to reach a circular orbit 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth.
The Starlink satellites will fly in one of five orbital “shells” at different inclinations for SpaceX’s global internet network. After reaching their operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin beaming broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network with a SpaceX-supplied ground terminal.
ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1073.3)
PAYLOAD: 52 Starlink satellites (Starlink 4-26)
LAUNCH SITE: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
LAUNCH DATE: Aug. 9, 2022
LAUNCH TIME: 10:14:40 p.m. EDT (0214:40 GMT)
WEATHER FORECAST: 70% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of upper level winds; Low risk of unfavorable conditions for booster recovery
BOOSTER RECOVERY: “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone ship east of Charleston, South Carolina
LAUNCH AZIMUTH: Northeast
TARGET ORBIT: 144 miles by 208 miles (232 kilometers by 335 kilometers), 53.2 degrees inclination
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