For the third time in three weeks, SpaceX is preparing to launch a batch of satellites for the company’s Starlink Internet network from the Florida Space Coast. A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to take off Thursday afternoon from Platform 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, weather permitting.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to take off on Thursday at 4:39 pm EDT (2039 GMT), and two commercial BlackSky-owned Earth imaging microsatellites will accompany Starlink’s payloads into orbit.
Thursday’s launch will be SpaceX’s fourth Falcon 9 mission in less than four weeks, continuing a dizzying rate of launch that began May 30 with the takeoff of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to orbit.
SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 rocket on June 3 with 60 Starlink satellites, and more recently delivered another 58 Starlink payloads into orbit with a Falcon 9 rocket on June 13 on a flight that also carried three commercial Earth-imaging satellites. SkySat into space for Planet.
Thursday’s mission will be SpaceX’s eleventh launch in 2020, and will be followed by another Falcon 9 launch scheduled for June 30 from platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with the upcoming GPS navigation satellite from the US Space Force.
The June 30 launch is scheduled for a 15-minute window opening at 3:55 pm EDT (1955 GMT).
SpaceX plans to test the rockets for its next two missions this week. The flown Falcon 9 rocket previously assigned to the Starlink / BlackSky launch is scheduled for a test run of its nine main Merlin engines on Wednesday at platform 39A.
A test launch of the new Falcon 9 booster for the GPS launch is scheduled for this week on platform 40, perhaps as early as Thursday.
Forecasters predict the typical summer weather on the Florida space coast for Thursday afternoon. There is a 60 percent chance that weather conditions could violate Falcon 9 take-off weather restrictions on Thursday at launch, according to a forecast released Tuesday by the 45th Space Force Weather Squadron.
The weather pattern over the next few days on the Space Coast “will favor afternoon showers and thunderstorms with daytime heating and the prevailing offshore flow,” forecasters wrote Tuesday. “The east coast sea breeze will stay closer to shore, and the west coast sea breeze will move across the peninsula. The westbound flow to the middle and upper level will also help push the rains and storms, along with their associated anvils, toward the east coast. ”
The main weather concerns for Thursday’s launch opportunity will be with the potential to violate cumulus cloud, anvil cloud, and lightning rules.
There is a slight improvement in the forecast for a backup launch opportunity on Friday afternoon, when there is a 40 percent chance that the weather violates the launch criteria.
SpaceX’s Starlink network is designed to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet service worldwide. SpaceX has launched 538 flat-panel Starlink spacecraft since the large-scale deployment of the orbital network began in May 2019, making the company the owner of the world’s largest satellite fleet.
SpaceX says it needs 24 launches to provide Starlink internet coverage in almost the entire populated world, and 12 launches could allow coverage of higher latitude regions, such as Canada and the northern United States.
The Falcon 9 can lift up to 60 Starlink satellites, each weighing roughly a quarter of a ton, in a single launch of the Falcon 9. But launches with secondary payloads, like BlackSky’s new Earth imaging satellites, they may carry fewer Starlinks to allow the ride-share passenger room to fit the rocket.
The initial phase of the Starlink network will have 1,584 satellites, according to SpaceX regulatory documents with the Federal Communications Commission. But SpaceX plans to launch thousands of more satellites, depending on market demand, and the company has FCC regulatory approval to operate up to 12,000 Starlink relay nodes in low-Earth orbit.
Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, says the Starlink network could raise revenue to finance the company’s ambition for interplanetary space travel and ultimately establish a human settlement on Mars.
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