After Booster Swap, SpaceX Targets Back-to-Back Starlink Missions Tomorrow


After Booster Swap, SpaceX Targets Back-to-Back Starlink Missions Tomorrow

USSF-124 powers uphill at 5:30 p.m. EST on Valentine’s Day, marking B1078’s first flight of 2024. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

SpaceX is targeting a pair of Falcon 9 launches from opposite coasts of the United States only ten hours apart Sunday, as it plans to push the total number of Starlink internet communications satellites injected into orbit so far this year past the 1,000 mark. Veteran boosters B1078 and B1075—both with ten prior missions to their credit—are set to launch from storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station as soon as 1:15 p.m. EDT and from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base as early as 8:45 p.m. PDT.

A Starlink payload stack is readied for launch. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Already since January, SpaceX has launched over 980 Starlinks in 44 Falcon 9-lifted batches and with 22 of these small flat-packed satellites aboard B1078 and another 20 aboard B1075, this will push the tally past 1,000 by midyear for the first time. It brings to more than 6,600 the grand total of Starlinks launched into orbit since May 2019

As a network, Starlink enables high-speed and low-latency internet provision to over 70 sovereign nations and international markets in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa. In the month of May alone, Starlink connectivity became available in Uruguay, Indonesia and Fiji, with Sierra Leone joining the network in June, bringing to 79 the total number of sovereign nations or regions to be in full receipt of coverage.

B1078 rises from Earth on her maiden launch with Dragon Endeavour and Crew-6 in March of last year. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The downsized V2 Mini Starlinks, first flown in February of last year, boast three to four times greater “usable” bandwidth than earlier Starlink iterations. “V2 Minis include key technologies—such as more powerful phased-array antennas and the use of E-Band for backhaul—which will allow Starlink to provide 4x more capacity per satellite than earlier iterations,” SpaceX explained. “Among other enhancements, V2 Minis are equipped with new argon Hall thrusters for on-orbit maneuvering.”

And since January 2024, SpaceX has also flown multiple “Direct-to-Cell” Starlinks to permit mobile network providers to offer “seamless global access to texting, calling and browsing” whether “on land, lakes or coastal waters”, without the need to change hardware or firmware. The Direct-to-Cell satellites—13 of which will be aboard B1075 for tomorrow’s Vandenberg launch—possess advanced modems which serve as a cellphone tower in space to eliminate dead zones with network integration similar to a standard roaming partner, according to SpaceX.

B1078 turns night into day across the Space Coast in March 2023, as Dragon Endeavour and Crew-6 take aim on the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

Florida-based intercity operator Brightline adopted Starlink on its trains in 2023, the first passenger rail service in the world to do so. Additionally, El Salvador’s Ministry of Education has begun integrating Starlink capability into its schools to help close the digital divide between urban and remote rural communities and 50 Rwandan schools are now connected via Starlink’s high-speed internet service. As of May, Starlink reportedly had about three million registered subscribers or customers worldwide.

First out of tomorrow’s launch gate will be B1078, flying for the fifth time in 2024 and turned around only three and a half weeks since her most recent mission at the end of May, marking her personal fastest-yet turnaround in only 26 days. She was switched into the spot previously occupied by her sister B1073, which succumbed to two back-to-back weather-related launch scrubs earlier this month, then a rare pad abort at T-0 on 14 June. 

B1078 first saw service in March 2023 for the launch of Dragon Endeavour and her Crew-6 quartet of NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, Russia’s Andrei Fedyayev and Sultan Al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

That abort prompted SpaceX teams to temporarily withdraw B1073—a veteran booster with 15 launches to her credit, including four so far this year—and set her aside for inspections. It remains to be seen when she will next fly.

For her part, B1078 first sprang onto SpaceX’s scene last March to loft Dragon Endeavour and her Crew-6 quartet of NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, Russian cosmonaut Andrei Fedyayev and Sultan Al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for their six-month Expedition 68/69 increment aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, she has also lifted seven Starlink batches, a pair of O3b mPOWER broadband satellites and the Space Force’s highly secretive USSF-124 payload of six discrete spacecraft—two Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) satellites for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the final four Tranche 0 Transport and Tracking Layer (TTL) satellites for the Space Development Agency (SDA)—into orbit. 

B1078 launches a Starlink batch in June 2023. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Tomorrow’s launch of B1078 carries an expansive “window” from 1:15 p.m. EDT through 5:01 p.m. EDT, with deployment of the 22 Starlinks anticipated at 52 minutes and 44 seconds after liftoff. B1078 will return to alight on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “A Shortfall of Gravitas”, which put to sea out of Port Canaveral in the latter half of last week.

Next up will be B1075, with her third liftoff of 2024 and her 11th of her career targeted to occur at 8:45 p.m. PDT. A dedicated “Vandenberg Falcon”, she entered service in January of last year and went on to fly eight times in 2023 achieving turnaround times as short as only five weeks between missions, and so far twice in 2024. 

B1075 launches for her most recent mission in March. Photo Credit: SpaceX

She has lifted over 250 Starlinks on eight of her ten flights, as well as a pair of “reflector” satellite in support of Germany’s SARah radar-imaging surveillance constellation and the inaugural Tranche 0 Transport and Tracking Layer (TTL) mission for the Space Development Agency (SDA).

An on-time liftoff will see B1075 return to land on the West Coast drone ship, “Of Course I Still Love You”, to conclude the seventh Falcon 9 mission of June and bring the total number of launches since January to 64. If both flights are accomplished on time, SpaceX will keep to its yearly running average of a launch every 2.7 days and set the Hawthorne, Calif.-headquartered organization on track to pass 130 missions by the end of 2024, a 30-percent uptick on last year.

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