SpaceX ready for historic 10th flight of a Falcon 9 as Starlink constellation expands

SpaceX is set for the historic tenth flight of a Falcon 9 rocket booster on… The post SpaceX ready for historic 10th flight of a Falcon 9 as Starlink constellation expands appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

SpaceX ready for historic 10th flight of a Falcon 9 as Starlink constellation expands

SpaceX is set for the historic tenth flight of a Falcon 9 rocket booster on the Starlink V1.0 L27 mission. The flight is set to launch from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Sunday, 9 May at 02:42 EDT / 06:42 UTC with an 80% positive launch weather forecast and a “low risk” prediction for recovery weather.

This mission will mark SpaceX’s 14th orbital launch in 2021, the 11th Starlink flight this year, and SpaceX’s second orbital launch and third flight overall in less than five days this month.

Starlink is SpaceX’s global internet constellation which aims to deliver fast, low latency, and inexpensive internet to locations where ground based internet is either unreliable or completely unavailable.

Starlink Constellation Progress 

SpaceX is currently filling the first shell of Starlink located in a 550 km circular orbit with an inclination of 53 degrees. Once complete, the first shell will consist of 1,584 operational satellites across 72 orbital planes with 22 satellites per plane. The shell currently contains approximately 1,456 operational working satellites, of which about 882 are in their final orbit, meaning this is the third-to-last Starlink launch before all Starlinks for the the first shell are in space. 

However, it will take a few months for all of the first shell satellites to reach their operational orbits; once that occurs, Starlink will cover approximately ~80% of Earth’s surface. 

Once all the satellites in the first shell are in orbit, SpaceX will begin building out additional orbital shells that will increase bandwidth and achieve 100% global coverage thanks to some satellites in polar orbits.

Overall, the first phase of the Starlink constellation will consist of approximately 4,408 satellites, in the following shells:

Inclination (°) Orbital Altitude (km) Number of Satellites
Shell 1 53.0 550 1,584
Shell 2 53.2 540 1,584
Shell 3 70.0 570 720
Shell 4 97.6 560 348
Shell 5 97.6 560 172
The two polar shells will both reside at the same inclination and the same altitude but will have a different number of planes for the Starlinks to reside in. Shell 4 will have six orbital planes with 58 satellites per plane while Shell 5 will consist of four orbital planes with 43 satellites in each.

According to Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX will begin conducting regular Starlink launches into the polar shells beginning in July. These missions are expected to launch from SLC-4 East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. It is understood that these missions will coincide with the continued launch of Starlink satellites from Florida to lower inclinations.

History of Reuse

For this mission, SpaceX will use the Falcon 9 Block 5 booster B1051-10 with the “-10” signifying the booster’s 10th flight.

Booster B1051 is the second oldest operational first stage booster in the Falcon 9 fleet, debuting in prominence with the  uncrewed Demo-1 flight of Crew Dragon to the International Space Station on 2 March 2019. During its life, it has flown the following missions:

B1051’s missions Launch Date (UTC) Turnaround Time (Days)
SpaceX Demonstration Mission-1 2 March 2019 N/A
RADARSAT Constellation 12 June 2019 102
Starlink V1.0 L3 29 January 2020 231
Starlink V1.0 L6 22 April 2020 84
Starlink V1.0 L9 7 August 2020 107
Starlink V1.0 L13 18 October 2020 72
SXM-7 13 December 2020 56
Starlink V1.0 L16 20 January 2021 38
Starlink V1.0 L21 14 March 2021 53
Starlink V1.0 L27 9 May 2021 (planned) 56 (planned)

This will be the first time an orbital class rocket booster will fly ten missions and marks a critical reuse milestone for SpaceX.

On 30 March 2017, SpaceX reused a Falcon 9 booster for the first time when SES-10 launched from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center under the power of core B1021, which a year prior became the first booster to land on SpaceX’s floating platform Of Course I Still Love You.

B1021 on Of Course I Still Love You after landing (Credit: SpaceX)

In May 2018, SpaceX debuted an upgraded Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9. This new version was to be capable of carrying crewed missions and take lessons learned from previous blocks to decrease turnaround and refurbishment time; the company set the ambitious goal of reusing a booster 10 times with minimal refurbishment between each flight.

Since the first flight of Falcon 9 Block 5, SpaceX has transitioned from simply manufacturing Falcon 9 first stages to operating a fleet of reusable rockets. Although the company still manufactures new boosters, they are becoming increasingly rare to see on the launch pad; in fact, not a single new first stage has launched so far in 2021.

With less demand for first stage boosters, SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California factory now focuses more on producing a large number of second stages to support an ever-increasing launch cadence.

Over the years, customers have become more and more comfortable flying on reused rockets. The United States Space Force recently allowed key national security missions to fly on used hardware, and even NASA has accepted flown boosters on crewed missions, the first of which launched several weeks ago on the Crew-2 mission.

In December 2020, Sirius-XM became the first paying customer to use a “high-flight number” booster when the SXM-7 satellite successfully launched on the seventh flight of booster B1051.

Thanks to their homegrown internet constellation, SpaceX has been able to expand the envelope of recovering and reusing hardware. With an abundance of internal payloads to launch, the company has been able to reduce turnaround times and launch individual boosters more and more without risking paying customers’ payloads.

This is evident in the number of times a booster has flown before each launch:

Flight 1 Flight 2 Flight 3 Flight 4 Flight 5 Flight 6 Flight 7 Flight 8 Flight 9 Flight 10
2017 13 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2018 10 12 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2019 7 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
2020 5 3 4 6 4 2 2 0 0 0
2021 0 1 0 1 2 3 2 2 2 1

SpaceX has also drastically reduced the turnaround times in 2021. Before this year, the fastest turnaround of a Falcon 9 was 51 days, between Starlink L11 and Starlink L14 — itself a global record.

In 2021, SpaceX has so far beaten this record six times, with two turnaround times at just 27 days. The average turnaround time has also decreased by approximately 48% since 2020:

Year Average Turnaround Time (Days)
2017 225.2
2018 224.5
2019 139.8
2020 113.8
2021 59.5

SpaceX has several more missions in the coming weeks. First is the Starlink V1.0 L26 mission on 15 May at 18:58 EDT / 22:58 UTC. That mission will use B1058-8 and launch from LC-39A. The mission may include two rideshare payloads: the Capella 5 and 6 satellites.

Falcon 9/Starlink v1.0 L27 UPDATES
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  • Next is SiriusXM’s SXM-8 on 1 June at 00:25 EDT / 04:25 UTC from SLC-40. Two day later, SpaceX will launch the CRS-22 mission on 3 June using booster B1067-1 (the first new core to enter the fleet in 2021) launching from LC-39A.

    The final confirmed upcoming SpaceX mission is GPS-III SV05 on 17 June; it will use B1062-2 and launch from SLC-40.

    The Launch

    Prior to launch, no static fire test was conducted, continuing a trend among SpaceX’s internal Starlink missions to skip the static fire and proceed to launch.

    Since Starlink V1.0 L8, 14 Falcon 9 flights have not required a static fire test due to both the reliability of flight-proven first stage boosters and the majority of those missions being internal Starlink flights.

    For external missions, paying customers can request a static fire before launch.

    Pre-launch countdown:

    T- time to launch Event
    T-38 mins Launch Director confirms “go” for propellant loading
    T-35 mins Fueling begins with RP-1 kerosene to both stages & liquid oxygen to Stage 1 only
    T-17 mins RP-1 kerosene load to Stage 2 complete
    T-16 mins Liquid oxygen load into Stage 2 begins
    T-7 mins First stage Merlin engine chilldown begins
    T-2 mins 30 secs Fueling of the Falcon 9 for launch complete
    T-1min Falcon 9 takes control of countdown & pressurizes its propellant tanks for launch
    T-45 secs Launch Director verifies “go” for launch
    T-3 secs Merlin 1D engine ignition command sent
    T0 Liftoff

    After lifting off, the vehicle will perform a pitch and roll maneuver to place itself onto the correct heading and into the proper orientation to achieve a 53 degree orbit of the Earth. Falcon 9 will achieve MaxQ 1 minutes 12 seconds into flight, followed by staging at T+2 minutes 36 seconds.

    The second stage will then ignite as the first stage orients itself for its 10th reentry and landing.

    6 minutes into flight, the first stage will then reignite its center engine, E9, shortly followed by two outer engines, E1 and E5. These three engines contain TEA-TEB canisters, allowing them to be relit in flight, which is different from how the engines are ignited on the ground before liftoff. On the ground, the TEA-TEB is provided by the launch pad’s ground service equipment.

    Shortly after, the first stage will then light E9 again to land on the Just Read the Instructions droneship approximately 615 km downrange.

    This will mark the 83rd landing of a Falcon 9 booster and the 21st landing attempt on Just Read the Instructions. The droneship will then take the booster back to Port Canaveral to begin a series of detailed inspections ahead of rejoining the fleet.

    Meanwhile, the second stage will continue to haul the Starlink stack into its initial parking orbit.  The payload fairings will separate 3 minutes 04 seconds into flight and parachute into the Atlantic where the Shelia Bordelon will recover them from the water approximately 680 km downrange of the launch site. 

    As with the first stage, the payload fairing halves on this flight are being reused. Both fairing halves previously flew together on the GPS III SV04 mission 185 days ago.

    The second stage and Starlink payload will reach their initial parking orbit 8 minutes 47 seconds after launch. The second stage will then begin to coast for about 37 minutes before settling its propellant and reigniting its Mvac engine for one second. Once the second burn is complete, the Falcon 9 will be in a 260 x 280 km orbit. 

    Afterward, the second stage will begin to spin in preparation for Starlink deployment. The 60 satellites will then deploy from the second stage and drift apart due to the difference in angular momentum imparted by the spinning rocket stage.

    The 60 satellites will then begin to maneuver to reach their 550 km operational orbits. 

    (Lead image credit: SpaceX)

    The post SpaceX ready for historic 10th flight of a Falcon 9 as Starlink constellation expands appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Source : NASA More   

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    Mission Extension Vehicles succeed as Northrop Grumman works on future servicing/debris clean-up craft

    With the successful docking of Mission Extension Vehicle 2, or MEV-2, to the Intelsat 10-02… The post Mission Extension Vehicles succeed as Northrop Grumman works on future servicing/debris clean-up craft appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Mission Extension Vehicles succeed as Northrop Grumman works on future servicing/debris clean-up craft

    With the successful docking of Mission Extension Vehicle 2, or MEV-2, to the Intelsat 10-02 satellite last month, Northrop Grumman not only repeated the task of successfully attaching one of their MEV spacecraft to a functioning satellite but also successfully proved the ability to grab a still-transmitting telecommunications satellite without disrupting service.

    The success of both MEV-1 and -2 has led to an increasing interest in the use of those crafts after their current five-year missions with their present satellites are complete.  Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman has already begun work on the next generations of remote, on-orbit servicing and debris clean-up vehicles.

    MEV-2 builds on MEV-1’s success

    Launched in October 2019, MEV-1 rendezvoused with its target satellite, Intelsat 901, on 25 February 2020, successfully performing an automated rendezvous and docking in an area of Earth orbit known as the GEO graveyard.

    The GEO graveyard is located approximately 300 kilometers above Geostationary orbit, which itself resides at 35,786 km above Earth sea level. 

    The first-ever docking in this type of Earth orbit, MEV-1 successfully demonstrated the ability to grab a still functioning but not transmitting or operational-in-that-regard satellite and provide mission extension propulsion and attitude control services.

    MEV-1 successfully maneuvered Intelsat 901 back down into the operational GEO belt, allowing it to continue to use its still operational telecommunications services even though its onboard propulsion system was running out of fuel to keep the satellite stable in orbit.

    Building on the success of MEV-1, MEV-2 successfully launched in August 2020 on an Ariane 5 ride-share mission into Geostationary transfer orbit.  It then spent the months after launch slowly raising its orbit up to GEO altitude inside GEO’s operational area assigned to its target satellite – Intelsat 10-02.

    Therein is the first major difference between the two missions.  MEV-2 was not grabbing a non-operational but still functioning satellite; it was instead given the obligation of docking to a still-transmitting telecommunications satellite in Geostationary orbit.

    In this case, going directly to the target satellite while it was still operational in some ways simplified the operations of getting MEV-2 to the correct point in space where it was ready to dock to Intelsat 10-02.

    According to Joe Anderson, Director, Mission Extension Vehicle Services, Northrop Grumman, in an interview with NASASpaceflight, “Docking on MEV-1 in the graveyard orbit, we had to use a lot of special operations to avoid [Radio Frequency] interference with other operating satellites in GEO as we were drifting past them.”

    Intelsat 10-02 seen from MEV-2 during the latter’s hold during approach at the 15-meter Waypoint ahead of docking on 12 April 2021. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

    “MEV-2 was a little bit simpler for us because we didn’t have that; we weren’t drifting past other satellites.”

    Something from MEV-1 that was not originally planned for inclusion on MEV-2’s mission but proved so useful with MEV-1 that Northrop Grumman decided to make it a normal procedure was a calibration — or practice — approach prior to the actual docking.

    “On MEV-1, we had incorporated something we called a calibration approach.  Because it was the first time, we wanted to do a practice approach to the client and make sure all our sensors were tuned up properly and that all the systems on both the client’s satellite and our satellite behaved properly as we got close,” said Anderson.  

    “We found, actually, that that was a really good idea.  Originally, we didn’t intend to continue that on our subsequent dockings.  But based on what we learned there, we decided that that’s something we definitely wanted to incorporate into our future missions as well.”

    Another key change with MEV-2, and a lesson learned from MEV-1, was the addition of a Waypoint, or location along the approach vector where the MEV stops to ensure it is properly aligned with its docking target on the client satellite.

    For MEV-1, three Waypoints were used, one at 80 meters distance, one at 15 meters, and the final at 1 meter, at which point the docking sequence was carried out.

    “What we found from that,” explained Anderson, “is that it would improve our performance and our confidence in our alignment for the docking if we were to add another waypoint about 3 meters behind the client.”

    The new Waypoint was employed on MEV-2’s approach to Intelsat 10-02 and allowed for better control of the actual docking timing given the satellite would still be transmitting to customers on the ground.  The new Waypoint also allowed better confirmation of alignment with the liquid apogee engine on the back of Intelsat 10-02, which was MEV-2’s docking target.

    “Intelsat wanted to establish a service window for their customers.  Their customers knew when they might expect a disturbance in their traffic,” noted Anderson.

    However, that never happened.

    MEV-2 Launch Coverage
  • MEV Coverage
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  • “[Adding that Waypoint], that was a good decision.  It really paid off for us on MEV-2, as when we did dock, we had zero transients.  We had no customer outages.  None of Intelsat’s customers experienced an outage when we docked.”

    Docking was conducted in the same manner used for MEV-1, with a docking probe on MEV-2 extended into the liquid apogee engine on Intelsat 10-02.  Once the docking probe passed the smallest part of the nozzle opening, known as the throat, the probe expanded and, like a wall anchor, provided a secure way to slowly pull Intelsat 10-02 down onto the docking clamps of MEV-2, which themselves attached to Intelsat 10-02’s launch adapter ring.

    The method for docking an MEV with a satellite that was never designed to be docked to or serviced in space is a careful part of the overall Mission Extension Vehicle design. 

    “The key there is really finding those features that are present on a large number of GEO satellites that we could attach to because we’re docking to satellites that were not designed to be docked with or serviced,” noted Anderson.  “There are two key factors that are present at about 80% of all of the satellites in GEO.  That is a liquid apogee engine and a launch adapter ring.”

    The launch adapter ring is no longer needed once the satellite separates from the rocket’s upper stage that launched it. The liquid apogee engine is only used for the initial orbit-raising maneuvers to begin the process of getting the satellite into a proper geostationary orbit after launch. 

    Intelsat 10-02, seen from MEV-2 while the latter was approximately 80 meters behind the satellite on 12 April 2021. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

    Additionally, the MEVs have to be able to dock to satellites using different buses.  These different buses have different properties that affect automated rendezvous and docking operations, such as reflectivity, orientation of solar panels, and placement of attitude control thrusters. 

    In fact, even though MEV-1 and MEV-2 both docked with Intelsat satellites, Intelsat 901 and 10-02 use completely different buses, which had to be accounted for when MEV-2 approached its target. 

    As Anderson related, “The client satellites for MEV-1 and MEV-2 are two different satellite buses.  One was made by Space Systems/Loral at the time, Maxar now, and the other by Airbus.  Those satellites each have their own particular features.  They look different, they have different reflective properties, they have different ways that they do their attitude control, and so you have to be very careful about accounting for all of those as you do your rendezvous approach and docking.”

    Success and future

    The success of the MEV program so far has certainly been seen throughout industry, with interest growing from potential clients.

    “After MEV-1, we received a lot of calls.  ‘Can I get that MEV next?’  ‘Can I get it now?’  ‘If we have a problem, is there any way I could use it?’  ‘MEV-2 is coming, can I get MEV-2?’  We got a lot of interest like that.”

    “I’ve been saying for quite some time that this market is a ‘build it and they will come’ type of market.  We’ve seen good evidence of that since I started working on this in 2012 and visiting customers.”

    In particular, Anderson noted interest within the community as far back as 2012; however, a major hesitation from customers was due to their need for such services immediately while not having a way to adequately predict what their needs would be three, four, or five years later. 

    Anderson found that as the years passed, potential customers would continue to say they required the service right then… but those specific needs changed from year to year.

    “That was the first evidence of: if we build it, if we are there in orbit, those customers will be there,” said Anderson.  “There is just this latent demand for this type of service.”

    But in all of those yearly and regular conversations where Anderson sussed out what the changing needs of customers were, a pattern clearly emerged.  There was a large need for different types of robotic, automated servicing missions for perfectly fine and still operational satellites that were simply running out of fuel to continue to be able to point in the correct direction for service as well as to maintain the orbits needed for those operations.

    In part, this has led to the development of not just the next generation beyond the MEVs but the next generation beyond the next generation, so to speak, of automated, geostationary orbiting servicing fleets.

    “First, we have our next generation system that we’re already constructing.  It’s called our Mission Robotic Vehicle and that’s done in a partnership with DARPA, where DARPA is providing the robotics system.”

    Basically a mini-MEV, these Mission Robotic Vehicles will be able to move from satellite to satellite in Geostationary orbit installing propulsion augmentation systems called mission pods, to satellites like Intelsat 901 and 10-02 that are still functioning but simply running out of propellant for attitude and/or orbital control. 

    The mission pods would provide six years of mission extension service in the form of attitude control.

    Artist’s depiction of a Mission Robotic Vehicle holding a mission pod. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

    After attaching the mission pods, the Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) would undock and move off on another mission.  In addition to attaching mission extension pods, the MVRs would be able to grab satellites and move them into different orbits as well as assist with debris clean-up activities in GEO.

    “We are doing studies into the feasibility of using that robotic vehicle to grapple debris in the GEO orbits,” noted Anderson.  “There is some debris there.  It’s not a huge problem in GEO, but there are some cases where customers would be very interested in having a piece of debris removed.  We are looking at and evaluating the feasibility of doing those types of missions out in the GEO belt.”

    This opens the possibility that the technology employed on the MRVs could be used for other debris cleanup operations, specifically the more cluttered low Earth orbit environment.

    “All of this technology could be applied to those types of debris removal problems,” said Anderson.  “Now the issue that we see with it right now is there is no customer base.  There is no one right now that is incentivized to pay for those types of services.”

    A mission pod attached to a client satellite. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

    But even beyond that, the third generation of robotic servicing vehicles are already in the planning stages, as well as how they will integrate with future satellites launched towards geostationary orbit. 

    “We’re already starting our generation three, a third generation of GEO servicing for refueling of prepared satellites,” related Anderson.

    “Our approach is to start doing refueling with satellites that are prepared for refueling.  We’re developing refueling interfaces that we would like to make an open industry standard.  Then our vision here is that by 2025, every new satellite that is launched is prepared for servicing in some way.”

    This third generation of vehicle would not just be able to perform refueling operations but also robotic servicing as well using robotic arm technology to repair elements on the exterior, or even interior, of satellites — including an ability to remove and replace solar arrays.

    “Designing solar arrays so they can be taken off or put back on or add additional solar arrays to it… absolutely, that’s on the roadmap,” enthused Anderson.  “That really gets to the next step of our roadmap, actually.  Beyond satellites prepared for servicing is in-space manufacturing, in-space assembly of spacecraft.”

    “That’s something we see coming.  There’ll be a lot of development and incremental capabilities of that over this decade, but we think it really starts to become a capability that we can utilize in the 2030s and beyond.”

    (Lead image: Artist’s impression of an MEV docked to a client vehicle in GEO. Credit: Northrop Grumman)

    The post Mission Extension Vehicles succeed as Northrop Grumman works on future servicing/debris clean-up craft appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Source : NASA More   

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