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Starlink L18 pushes new limits

February 4th, 2021, atop a Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-40 Canaveral Space Force Station

The wee hours of February 4th were shaping up to be a truly historic night. The 45th Space Wing gave SpaceX permission to launch two Falcon 9 rockets right around five hours apart. Of course they were launching from separate launch sites as the company currently leases LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center, and SCL-40 at Canaveral Space Force station. The pads sit only a few miles apart in distance and were each loaded with a rocket in the vertical launch position. This would have been the first day to see a double launch from Cape Canaveral since the 1960's, and also meant we could have seen two boosters returning to port on the same day as well. The weather was clear, the stars were out, but they weren't aligned. Booster 1049 was stood down for launch for further inspection. This booster has flown seven times previously and is the second most flown booster in SpaceX's launch fleet.

Booster 1060 however did see orbit that night. With temperatures around forty degrees and the Moon hovering right over the horizon we saw a stunning launch shortly after one o'clock in the morning. The sixty Starlink satellites carried by booster 1060 sat inside two fairing halves that were also previously used before. One half from the SOACOM-1B mission while the other flew on the GPS III SV03 mission. SpaceX’s fairing recovery boats, the GO MS Tree, and GO MS Chief sat around 700km downrange, to and we have yet to receive word as to whether the fairings were successfully caught or fished out of the Ocean. Wit this newest batch of satellites launching SpaceX now has sent 1,083 of them into orbit for their Starlink constellation. Starlink, a name you will see many times in the coming years is SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk’s vision of bringing high speed, low latency internet across the globe. So far the company has announced they planned to launch 12,000 of these satellites to make up their constellation. In 2019 the company then filed with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to launch an additional 30,000 Starlink satellites. This means launching about twenty times more satellites than last year to keep up with the goal, an overwhelming number of launches, but not as far fetched as it may feel with the launch cadence picking up in Florida with the 45th Space Wing expecting over fifty total launches in 2021, the majority of them being for that Starlink constellation.

Pushing new limits booster 1060 has now made it’s fifth successful flight for SpaceX and this morning’s launch came just twenty-seven days after it’s last flight for the Turksat-5A mission on January 8th of this year. Before Turksat-5A it flew two Starlink missions, L14 and L11 with its debut flight that of GPS III SV03 on June 30th of 2020. Tonight’s launch came with a drone ship landing. Starting from SLC-40 or Space Launch Complex 40 at Canaveral Space Force Station the Falcon 9 rocket soared on a course to the heavens heading North East, directly out over the Atlantic Ocean before landing back safely on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” which sat 633km downrange. The twenty-fourth consecutive landing came just around eight minutes after liftoff.

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