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Starlink L26 Comes with Added Baggage

6:54 PM Est atop a Falcon 9 rocket from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center

Just an hour before sunset the space coast lit up, then shook as another Falcon 9 rocket lifted off the ground and into orbit. A common occurrence around these parts now as it seems every week we see another SpaceX launch vehicle ascending through the sky. While some may be annoyed at the loud rumble of the nine Merlin 1D engines we sure aren’t. It seems a wonderful way to end the day, especially since the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and their F18 Super Hornets are just down the road performing at the Melbourne-Orlando International Airport.

Even though we saw the Starlink L27 mission already launch there is no mistake, this was the L26 mission. It appears things got out of order due to two rideshare satellites tagging along on their way up. Not much has been known about those two extra satellites but yesterday in a tweet SpaceX said they were one Capella Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Satellite, and one Tyvak-0130. To make room for these stowaways the company had to reduce the number Starlinks onboard. Down from the usual sixty, tonight we only see fifty-two of those internet providing satellites launching. That makes a total now of 1,606 Starlink satellites still in orbit. Of course the company is currently in the “Better Than Nothing Beta” phase of it’s Starlink infantsacy which is allowing anyone that’s in an approved region to preorder the service. Currently these are some folks in higher latitudes but SpaceX says after their twenty-eight launch they will achieve global coverage even without the entire constellation being complete for some time as it will consist of 42,000 satellites in orbit.

Our payload tonight was an old regular for its ride to orbit, Falcon 9 booster 1058, which we first saw just about one year ago when on May 30th of 2020 it launched Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurly to the ISS (International Space Station) in the Launch America campaign that returned human spaceflight to the United States. Tonight was it’s eighth launch total now, four of those being Starlink Missions, then besides the DM-2 mission it flew the Anasis II mission, the CRS-21 mission and the Transport-1 mission back in January of this year. Though this is now the third booster to ever fly eight times, it is most notable as the only first stage booster to hold the NASA “Worm” logo on one side. On the other it has the regular SpaceX wording vertical along it’s core but also the NASA “Meatball” logo at the top along with the American flag.

The company’s fifteenth launch this year returned to Earth on the drone Ship “Of Course I Still Love You” 630km down range in the Atlantic Ocean. When it did set down just around eight minutes after launch it became the eighty-fourth landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9. This also marks the 118th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket, pretty impressive for a company that was founded in 2002. In less than twenty years they have become one of if not the top launch provider for companies around the globe.

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