SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, April 22 at 3:30 p.m. EDT, or 19:30 p.m. UTC, for its seventh launch of Starlink satellites. Falcon 9 will lift off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A backup opportunity is available on Thursday, April 23 at 3:15 p.m. EDT, or 19:15 UTC.
Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported Crew Dragon’s first flight to the International Space Station, launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, and the fourth Starlink mission. Following stage separation, SpaceX will land Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported the AMOS-17 mission.
SpaceX has successfully launched its latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites, raising its total number of Starlink satellites launched into orbit to 420.
Today at 3.30 P.M. Eastern Time, the California-based company’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida with the satellites on board.
About eight minutes after launching, the first stage of the rocket came down for a landing on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You about 630 kilometers into the Atlantic Ocean.
This was the fourth flight for the first stage, having flown three times before including the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in March 2019.
The two halves of the payload fairing – or nosecone – of the rocket were also reused, having flown on the AMOS-17 mission back in August 2019.
The second stage of the rocket, which gives the satellites their final boost into orbit, was the only part that had not flown before.
About 15 minutes into the mission, the 60 Starlink satellites on board were deployed into an initial orbit 290 kilometers above Earth.
Once the satellites have been checked out to ensure they are working properly, they will use their onboard ion thrusters to rise to their operational altitude of 550 kilometers over several months.
During this time the large solar panel on each 260-kilogram satellite – which unfolds after launching – can make the satellites appear bright in the night sky.
There have been multiple reports of Starlink satellites being visible in the night sky, with the potential to impact astronomical observations of the universe.
However, on Twitter earlier today, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed some new information about the reflectivity issue. He said all upcoming Starlinks in two launches time would be equipped with a “sunshade”, to make them dimmer.
“We are taking some key steps to reduce satellite brightness,” he wrote. “Should be much less noticeable during orbit raise by changing solar panel angle & all sats get sunshades starting with launch 9.”
Since May 2019 the company has now launched 420 Starlink satellites into orbit, and 422 satellites in total following the launch of two prototype satellites in 2018.
This was SpaceX’s sixth launch of the year, and crucially marks the 84th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket. That makes the Falcon 9 the most flown operational U.S. rocket, ahead of the Atlas V.