Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Starlink 4-34 mission will launch SpaceX’s next batch of 54 Starlink broadband satellites. Follow us on Twitter.
SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket launch is now set for 8:18 p.m. EDT Sunday (0018 GMT Monday) to deliver 54 more Starlink Internet satellites into orbit. The mission has been delayed five days due to thunderstorms around the launch base.
The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket will launch SpaceX’s Starlink 4-34 mission. The weather forecast for Sunday evening indicates a 40% chance of acceptable conditions for ascent.
The SpaceX launch team interrupted Tuesday night’s Falcon 9 countdown just before they began loading propellant into the Falcon 9 rocket. Flashes of lightning lit up the sky over Florida’s space coast throughout the evening. Similar weather conditions Wednesday night forced officials to call another scrub before refueling, and SpaceX stopped the countdown at about T-minus 30 seconds Thursday night, as the weather remained a “no go” for launch.
It was a similar story Friday night when SpaceX loaded propellant into the Falcon 9, but stopped the countdown just inside T-minus 60 seconds. The teams originally targeted another launch attempt on Saturday, but SpaceX announced Saturday night that the mission would be delayed until Sunday night.
This flight will mark SpaceX’s 42nd Falcon 9 launch so far in 2022. It will be the 40th space launch attempt overall from Florida’s Space Coast this year, including launches from SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Astra.
When it lifts off, the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage will release the satellites over the North Atlantic about 15 minutes after liftoff. The 54 Starlink satellites will together approx. 36,800 pounds, or 16.7 tons, in payload mass.
The Starlink 4-34 mission will be the third of as many as five Falcon 9 missions on SpaceX’s schedule this month. Tom Ochinero, SpaceX’s vice president of commercial sales, said Tuesday at the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris that the company aims to complete more than 60 launches this year, with a goal of 100 rocket missions by 2023, continuing a dramatic increase in SpaceX’s launch cadence .
The faster launch speed has been helped by shorter turnaround times between missions at launch pads in Florida and California, and SpaceX’s reuse of Falcon 9 boosters and payload fairings. Launches of satellites for SpaceX’s own Starlink network, such as the mission Friday night, have accounted for about two-thirds of the company’s Falcon 9 flights so far this year.
SpaceX began flying 54 Starlink satellites on dedicated Falcon 9 flights last month, one more spacecraft than the company typically launched on previous missions. SpaceX has experimented with different engine throttle settings and other minor changes to stretch the Falcon 9’s performance.
SpaceX test-fired the Falcon 9 booster for the Starlink 4-34 mission at the launch pad on September 11. A static fire test on September 10 was aborted when a severe thunderstorm swept over the Cape Canaveral spaceport.
Designated B1067 in SpaceX’s inventory of reusable rockets, the booster will make its sixth flight into space on Sunday night. The booster previously launched two astronaut missions to the International Space Station, plus two resupply flights to the station. It also launched Turkey’s communications satellite Turksat 5B.
With the Starlink 4-34 mission Sunday night, SpaceX will have launched 3,347 Starlink Internet satellites, including prototypes and test units that are no longer in service. The launch Saturday will be the 61st SpaceX mission dedicated primarily to carrying Starlink internet satellites into orbit.
Located inside a launch control center just south of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, SpaceX’s launch team will begin loading supercooled, condensed kerosene and liquid oxygen into the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes.
Helium propellant will also flow into the rocket during the last half hour of the countdown. During the last seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines will be thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “chilldown”. The Falcon 9’s guidance and range assurance system will also be configured for launch.
After launch, the Falcon 9 rocket will vector its 1.7 million pounds of thrust – produced by nine Merlin engines – to steer northeast across the Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket will exceed the speed of sound in about one minute, then shut down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after launch. The booster stage will release from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fire pulses from cold gas control thrusters and extend titanium lattice fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.
Two brake burns will slow the rocket for landing on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship about 400 miles (650 kilometers) down range about eight and a half minutes after launch.
The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing will be ejected during the second stage burn. A salvage ship is also on station in the Atlantic Ocean to retrieve the two halves of the nose cone after they splash down under parachutes.
The landing of the first stage of Sunday’s mission will occur moments after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine shuts down to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. Separation of the 54 Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket is expected at T+plus 15 minutes and 21 seconds.
Holding rods will detach from the Starlink payload stack, allowing the flat-packed satellites to fly freely from the Falcon 9’s upper stage in orbit. The 54 spacecraft will deploy solar panels and run through automated activation steps, then use krypton-powered ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.
The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aimed to deploy the satellites in an elliptical orbit with an inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use onboard 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” with different inclinations for SpaceX’s global internet network. After reaching their operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin transmitting broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network with a SpaceX-supplied ground terminal.
ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1067.6)
PAYLOAD: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 4-34)
LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida
LAUNCH DATE: 18 September 2022
LAUNCH TIME: 8:18 PM EDT (0018 GMT September 19)
WEATHER REPORT: 40% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of upper level winds; Low risk of adverse conditions for booster recovery
BOOSTER RECOVERY: “Just Read the Instructions” drone ships east of Charleston, South Carolina
LAUNCH ASIMUTH: Northeast
TARGET ORBIT: 144 miles by 208 miles (232 kilometers by 336 kilometers), 53.2 degree gradient
- T+00:00: Ascent
- T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
- T+02:27: First stage main engine cut-off (MECO)
- T+02:31: Stage separation
- T+02:36: Second stage engine ignition
- T+02:42: Coat bump
- T+06:48: Combustion ignition in the first stage (three engines)
- T+07:07: Combustion interruption at the first stage
- T+08:26: First stage landing fuel burn (one engine)
- T+08:40: Engine shutdown in second stage (SECO 1)
- T+08:47: First leg landing
- T+15:21: Starlink satellite separation
- 176th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
- 184th launch of the Falcon rocket family since 2006
- Sixth launch of Falcon 9 booster B1067
- 151st Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
- 97th Falcon 9 launch from pad 40
- 152nd launch in total from pad 40
- 118th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
- 61st dedicated Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites
- 42nd Falcon 9 launch by 2022
- 42nd launch by SpaceX in 2022
- 40th orbital launch attempt based at Cape Canaveral in 2022
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