SpaceX rolls out rocket for sixth Falcon 9 launch in five weeks

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands on pad 40 Monday afternoon at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX rolled out a Falcon 9 rocket Monday to its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida for a liftoff scheduled Wednesday with the next batch of Starlink internet satellites.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket was raised vertical on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral for a planned test-firing ahead of Wednesday’s mission. In the static fire test, the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin engines will run for several seconds, while hold-down clamps keep the fully fueled 1.2-million-pound rocket firmly on the ground.

SpaceX’s launch team plans to load the Falcon 9 with super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants beginning about 35 minutes before the test-firing.

If everything checks out OK, SpaceX will give the go-ahead to continue preparations for liftoff at 2:59 p.m. EDT (1859 GMT) Wednesday with the next batch of approximately 60 satellites for the company’s Starlink internet network.

SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9’s reusable booster on the football field-sized drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” positioned downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.

It will mark SpaceX’s sixth Falcon 9 launch in less than five weeks, a busy stretch that began with the April 23 liftoff of a Crew Dragon capsule carrying four astronauts on a six-month mission to the International Space Station.

Since then, SpaceX has launched four more Falcon 9 rockets, each carrying Starlink broadband satellites. The company’s most recent mission, on May 15, carried 52 Starlink spacecraft and two rideshare payloads for the radar remote sensing company Capella Space and the small satellite manufacturer Tyvak.

The Falcon 9 launch Wednesday will follow a similar trajectory as other recent Starlink launches. The rocket will arc northeast from Florida’s Space Coast and release the 60 Starlink satellites into orbit about an hour after liftoff.

Once in orbit, the satellites will deploy solar panels and activate their ion thrusters to maneuver into an operational orbit 341 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth at an inclination of 53 degrees to the equator, where they will join the Starlink fleet beaming high-speed, low-latency internet signals to users around the world.

With the launch Wednesday, SpaceX will have put 1,737 Starlink internet satellites into orbit since May 2019, including prototypes and dead spacecraft no longer in service. This week’s flight will bring SpaceX’s active internet constellation to more than 1,600 spacecraft.

SpaceX has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually launch and operate up to 12,000 internet relay satellites.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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