CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – SpaceX it started what is expected to be another year full of launches with the delivery of a Turkish communications satellite in orbit tonight (7 January).
One 230 feet high (70 m) Falcon 9 rocket took off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 9:15 pm EST (0215 GMT on January 8), about 45 minutes in a planned four-hour window, taking the Turksat 5A satellite into space. The brief delay was due to a downrange tracking issue, SpaceX said during its live launch broadcast.
Going into launch tonight, meteorologists on the US Space Force’s 45th Space Wing predicted a 70% chance of favorable conditions for launch, with the main concerns being cumulus and thick clouds, along with level wind shear. higher. These conditions are not always ideal for spectators, but they can allow for interesting acoustics, as the Falcon’s roar sounds very loud.
Flight of the hawk
The two-stage Falcon 9 lit up the night sky as it jumped from the launch pad tonight. The glow of the rocket’s nine first-stage engines transformed the night into a day as the rocket rose in the clouds that hovered over the Space Coast. The roar of the engines can be heard long after the rocket has disappeared from view.
Tonight’s mission marked the first launch of the year here in Cape, and 8.5 minutes after takeoff, the rocket’s first stage landed on one of SpaceX’s two huge drone ships, “Just Read the Instructions”, which was parked in the Atlantic Ocean.
Today’s flight was the fourth launch of this first stage of the Falcon 9 in particular. The booster, designated B1060, had already lofted an updated GPS III satellite for the U.S. Space Force in June 2020, followed by launches of SpaceX Starlink Internet Satellites in September and October.
Falcon 9 stood upright on the block this morning. SpaceX did not conduct a static fire test of this particular rocket before the flight. Typically, the company holds the rocket over the platform and briefly fires its nine first-stage engines to ensure that its systems are running as expected before take-off. It is rare for SpaceX to skip this routine test, but it is not new. In fact, SpaceX also ignored the static fire test in its previous mission, which launched a spy satellite to the US National Reconnaissance Office in December.
Powered by more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust from its nine first-stage Merlin 1D engines, the Falcon 9 deposited the 7,700 pounds. (3,500 kilograms) Turksat 5A satellite in orbit about 33 minutes after takeoff. The spacecraft was designed to operate for approximately 15 years, providing broadband coverage to Turkey, the Middle East, Europe and parts of Africa.
SpaceX will also launch the spacecraft equivalent, Turksat 5B, later this year. The turksats are part of an effort to expand Turkey’s presence in space, which was not without controversy. In October, activists began to press SpaceX to halt the launch of the Turksat 5A. They protested outside SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, citing Turkey’s role in a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan as the reason the mission should not fly. His attempt was unsuccessful.
About 8.5 minutes after Falcon 9 jumped off the platform, the rocket’s first stage landed on the drone ship, marking the third launch and successful landing for this particular booster. The landing also marked the 71st successful touchdown of a reinforcement of the overall SpaceX and the 21st consecutive. (In 2019, SpaceX lost two first-stage boosters on consecutive missions as the vehicles failed to reach their mark.)
Expanding Turkey’s space presence
Built by Airbus, the Turksat 5A spacecraft separated from the top stage of the Falcon approximately 30 minutes after takeoff. From its orbital position, more than 22,000 miles (36.00 kilometers) above Earth, the satellite will transmit broadband coverage, thanks to its 42 Ku band transponders.
The satellite will take almost four months to reach its final altitude. The Turksat 5A will make the journey using its onboard plasma thrusters, which depend on the electrical energy of the spacecraft’s solar panels, instead of traditional fuel. These thrusters are more energy efficient, but produce less momentum, so it takes a little more time to reach your orbital parking spot.
“We are delighted to welcome Turksat as a new Eurostar customer to the most powerful satellites in its fleet. We were the first to demonstrate complete electric propulsion technology for satellites of this size and capacity, and this will allow the Turksat spacecraft to be launched in the most economical way, ”said Nicolas Chamussy, head of space systems at Airbus, in a company statement.
The Turksat 5B, due out later this year, is slightly heavier than its predecessor. Weighing over 9,000 pounds. (4,500 kg), the satellite will operate in the Ku and Ka bands, providing more than 50 gigabits per second of capacity, according to Airbus. This satellite is expected to enter service later this year, if all goes as planned.
Stick it on the drone ship
The Turksat 5A’s mission is the 50th backflow of a SpaceX Falcon 9 since the company retrieved a booster for the first time in 2015.
To maintain the landing, the booster separated from its upper stage and conducted a series of orbital ballet movements to reorient itself for landing. Then he ran a series of three engine burns to slow down enough to land smoothly on his designated landing spot, the “Just read the instructions. “
To facilitate reuse, SpaceX employs two huge drone ships, the second of which is called “Of course I still love you”. The floating platforms are parked in the Atlantic before the Space Coast launches and return to Port Canaveral with the booster in tow after a successful capture. These two vessels allowed SpaceX to launch and later land more rockets.
“Of course I still love you” is now getting some TLC after a busy year last year. In total, OCISLY picked up 40 return boosters, 13 of which landed in 2020. The spacecraft will soon return to service, ready to pick up many more boosters with this year’s busy SpaceX schedule.
“Just read the instructions” received its own updates and renovations in early 2020.
The current Falcon 9 iteration debuted in 2018. Known as Block 5, it features 1.7 million pounds of first-stage thrust, as well as some other updates that make it capable of rapid reuse. According to SpaceX, each of these first stage boosters can fly up to 10 times with minor renovations between and potentially up to 100 times before retirement.
So far, SpaceX has released and landed the same booster a maximum of seven times. So far, we haven’t seen any fly 10 times, but it could happen this year.
The company’s founder and CEO, Elon Musk, said he wants his rockets to help facilitate access to space, and Block 5 Falcon 9 was created for that. Thanks to the launcher’s capabilities, it has enabled smaller countries and organizations to reach space through dedicated missions and “travel sharing”.
With this flight, Turkey became the last country to take advantage of this opportunity. Just over two years ago, Bangladesh sent its first communications satellite into space on top of a SpaceX rocket; last July, South Korea launched its first dedicated military satellite the Florida Space Coast; and in 2018, Israel launched a spaceship to the moon as part of a hitchhiking mission. These are just a few examples of the growing number of countries and entities that are reaching the stars thanks to reduced launch costs.
Before today’s launch, SpaceX deployed its dynamic duo – GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief – in an effort to pick up the two pieces that fall from the Falcon 9’s payload fairing, or nose cone.
Mrs. Tree had been working alone on the last missions of 2020, receiving help from a boat called GO Navigator.
Mrs. Tree and Mrs. Chief act as giant mobile catcher gloves, payload fairing in their attached nets as they fall back to Earth. (Boats are also able to recover the halves of the water fairing after splashing.)
Each fairing is equipped with parachutes and special software to guide itself to a predetermined recovery zone where boats wait with extended nets.
After being returned to the port, the fairings are reformed and used again. Typically, SpaceX flies used fairing parts in their own Starlink missions, but the company has branched out and used more reused hardware in all of its missions. In December, the company flew veteran fairing on its Sirius XM-7 mission, the first external mission to present a reformed shroud.
Today’s mission marks the beginning of a busy launch year for Cabo. More than 40 missions are scheduled, with SpaceX hoping to launch 40 rockets this year between its launch sites in California and Florida.
These launches include two astronaut missions to the International Space Station, plus Starlink flights and a takeoff from the powerful Falcon Heavy.
SpaceX’s next mission is the Transporter-1 mission, which is expected to transport 72 small satellites along with four additional payloads into space as part of SpaceX’s latest rideshare venture. The takeoff of the Transporter-1 is scheduled to take place before January 14th.
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