CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is gearing up to launch a third batch of Starlink satellites in as many weeks on Sunday (March 14) and you can watch the action live online.
The Hawthorne, California-based company is planning to fly one of its veteran Falcon 9 rockets for a record nine times with the mission, which comes just days after SpaceX’s last launch. The two-stage launcher will blast off from the historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here in Florida at 6:01 a.m. EDT (1101 GMT).
Forecasters with the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron reported that the launch weather looks promising for Sunday’s early morning liftoff, with a 90% chance of favorable weather. The only slight concern is the potential for cumulus clouds.
If needed, there is a backup launch window on Monday, with weather conditions looking just as promising.
Beautiful weather is also predicted down range, which is good news for SpaceX’s main drone ship — “Of Course I Still Love You” — as it hopes to catch the booster as it returns to Earth. If successful, the landing will mark the 77th recovery for SpaceX since the company landed its first booster in 2015, and the ninth landing for this particular booster.
Flight no. 9
The booster, B1051, is one of two fleet leaders in SpaceX’s stable of reusable rockets. It first flew in March of 2019, lofting an uncrewed Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a demonstration mission.
Following that successful debut, B1051 trekked across the country to launch a trio of Earth-observing satellites for Canada from SpaceX’s facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The booster then flew a total of five times from Florida in 2020, carrying five different Starlink missions and a broadband satellite for Sirius XM.
Sunday’s mission marks the second flight for B1051 this year, and its second Starlink mission so far in 2021. After its last flight took off on Jan. 20, SpaceX engineers were able to turn around the booster and get it ready for its historic ninth flight in just 53 days — the second quickest turnaround time for this particular booster. (The fastest was between flights 7 and 8, which took off just 38 days apart.)
Expanding the constellation
This particular flight, Starlink 21, is the 22nd set of internet-beaming satellites that SpaceX has delivered to space, including a set of initial prototypes in 2019. The company planned for its initial constellation to be 1,440 strong, and while SpaceX is well on its way to achieving that milestone, the company has already been granted approval for as many as 30,000 with the option for evenmore at a later time.