SpaceX launches third Falcon 9 rocket in less than two days – Spaceflight Now

A Falcon 9 rocket takes off from platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with the Globalstar FM15 satellite. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX put a Globalstar communications satellite into orbit early Sunday from Cape Canaveral, making the third flight of the Falcon 9 rocket in 36 hours, the fastest sequence of three missions by any commercial launch company in history.

A spare spacecraft built more than a decade ago for Globalstar’s satellite phone and messaging network was placed inside the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload coverage to lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 00:27:36 EDT ( 0427:36 GMT).

Falcon 9 fired from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral with 1.7 million pounds of thrust from nine Merlin main engines. The engines vectored their nozzles to guide the 70-meter rocket northeast of Florida’s Space Coast, lining up with an orbital plane of Globalstar’s satellite fleet.

The rocket surpassed the speed of sound in about a minute and shut down its booster stage in about two and a half minutes of flight. A few seconds later, the thruster dropped to head towards a SpaceX recovery platform, or drone craft, parked in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Falcon 9’s first stage — 15 stories high — landed on the drone craft about 10 minutes after liftoff, adding a ninth trip to space to the booster’s logbook.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage fired its single Merlin engine three times, traveling through different orbits before finally reaching an altitude of about 1,126 kilometers to deploy the Globalstar FM15 communications satellite nearly two hours into the mission.

SpaceX said the upper stage reached the mission’s target orbit and officials celebrated the company’s third successful launch in less than two days.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket crosses the night sky after liftoff from Cape Canaveral at 12:27 pm EDT (0427 GM) Sunday. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The Falcon 9 triple mission began at 12:09 am EDT (1609 GMT) on Friday with the launch of 53 Starlink Internet satellites from the Kennedy Space Center. That mission set a record with the 13th flight of a reusable Falcon rocket, which returned to landing on one of SpaceX’s drones in the Atlantic.

SpaceX teams at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California launched another Falcon 9 rocket at 10:19 am EDT (7:19 am PDT; 1419 GMT) on Saturday with the German military’s SARah 1 radar reconnaissance satellite. The Falcon thruster used on SARah 1 descended on Vandenberg for a land landing.

With Sunday’s mission to Globalstar, SpaceX managed three flights of the Falcon 9 in 36 hours and 18 minutes, the shortest interval between three missions any commercial rocket company has achieved.

The launches marked the 158th, 159th, and 160th flights of a Falcon 9 rocket overall, and the 24th, 25th, and 26th Falcon 9 missions this year, trying the count of 26 launches that SpaceX has achieved throughout 2020. surpass the mark of 31 launches – its total of last year – until the end of July.

Company employees are targeting more than 50 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches in 2022.

Some aspects of Sunday’s launch caused observers to raise questions about other spacecraft that may have been deployed alongside the Globalstar satellite.

SpaceX did not mention any other payloads in its live launch webcast or the Globalstar mission page on its website.

But the relatively light weight of the Globalstar satellite would normally leave enough propellant reserve in the Falcon 9’s thruster to return to landing. Instead, Sunday’s mission featured a landing on SpaceX’s offshore recovery platform.

The live webcast of Sunday’s launch provided by SpaceX did not show any camera views aboard the Globalstar satellite until an hour after the mission, an unusual practice for SpaceX’s commercial launches. When live footage from the onboard camera began showing live, the Globalstar satellite was visible mounted on an upper stage structure that appeared to be designed to accommodate other payloads.

If there are additional satellites on Sunday’s launch, they were already deployed from the Falcon 9 rocket when the live camera views began appearing on the SpaceX webcast.

In another unusual move, Globalstar did not acknowledge any details about the launch of its spare satellite ahead of Sunday’s mission. Globalstar released a statement in a quarterly financial report last month that said it planned to launch the backup spacecraft in the “near future”. At the time, the company did not identify the spare satellite launcher.

The launch on Sunday was the first for a Globalstar satellite since 2013 and adds capacity to the company’s commercial network, providing voice and data connectivity to satellite phones, asset tracking and internet of things applications.

Globalstar operates a fleet of dozens of communication satellites in low Earth orbit. The company did not respond to multiple requests for details about the upcoming release.

The company launched 60 first-generation satellites, built by Space Systems/Loral, on Delta 2 and Soyuz rockets from 1998 to 2007. Globalstar added 24 second-generation satellites, manufactured by Thales Alenia Space, on four Soyuz rocket missions from 2010. to 2013 .

Globalstar satellites provide data connectivity to customers between 70 degrees north and south latitude, and the company’s second-generation spacecraft are designed for an operational lifespan of 15 years. The Globalstar satellites built by Thales are trapezoidal in shape and feature 16 transponders in the C and S bands and 16 receivers in the L and C bands.

SpaceX patch for the Globalstar FM15 mission. Credit: SpaceX

Globalstar competes in the satellite telephony and data relay market with companies such as Iridium, Inmarsat and Orbcomm. Globalstar announced in February that it is purchasing 17 new satellites from an industry team led by MDA and Rocket Lab to extend the life of its constellation.

The company expects all 17 new satellites to be launched by the end of 2025. A launch service provider for the new satellites has not been announced.

The $327 million contract for the 17 new satellites is being funded primarily by an unnamed “prospect customer” for Globalstar services.

Globalstar did not disclose the organization funding the new satellites, but the operator said last month that it had signed a pledge agreement with a “large global customer” to begin deploying S-band services in the so-called “Band 53” frequency band. in the United States and other countries.

The unnamed customer also paid for most of the costs associated with launching the Globalstar FM15 satellite, Globalstar said in its financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

SpaceX plans two more Falcon 9 launches this month.

Another batch of Starlink internet satellites is scheduled to take off from the Kennedy Space Center next Saturday, June 25th. And a Falcon 9 rocket is being prepared for launch on June 28 from platform 40 in Cape Canaveral with the SES 22 television broadcast satellite.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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