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

The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Site 40 of the Cape Canaveral space station with the Globalstar FM15 satellite. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launches Globalstar communications satellite into orbit early Sunday from Cape Canaveral, completing the third flight of the Falcon 9 rocket in 36 hours, the fastest sequence of three missions

from any trading company in history.

A backup spacecraft built more than a decade ago for Globalstar’s satellite phone and messaging network was tucked into the payload of the Falcon 9 rocket to take off from Cape Canaveral Space Station at 00:27:36 EDT (04 : 27: 36 GMT).

The Falcon 9 launched a 1.7 million-pound launch pad at Cape Canaveral from Merlin’s nine main engines. The engines are directing their nozzles to steer the 229-foot (70-meter) rocket northeast of the Florida Space Coast, lined up in an orbital plane in Globalstar’s satellite fleet.

The rocket exceeded the speed of sound by about a minute and closed its acceleration stage about two and a half minutes after the flight. Seconds later, the accelerator crashed to head to a SpaceX recovery platform or a drone ship parked in the Atlantic Ocean east of Charleston, South Carolina.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 – the 15-story itself – landed on the drone about 10 minutes after takeoff, adding the ninth voyage to space in the accelerator’s logbook.

The upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket fired its single Merlin engine three times, passing through various orbits, before finally reaching an altitude of about 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) to deploy the Globalstar FM15 communications satellite nearly two hours after the mission.

SpaceX said the top stage had 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 travels through the night sky after taking off from Cape Canaveral at 12:27 EDT (04:27 GM) on Sunday. Credit: Michael Kane / Space Flight Now / Cold Photography

The mission of Falcon 9 missions began at 12:09 a.m. EDT (1609 GMT) on Friday with the launch of 53 Starlink satellites from the Kennedy Space Center. This mission set a record with the 13th flight of a reusable accelerator Falcon, which returned when one of the SpaceX drones landed in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX teams at the Vandenberg Space Force base in California launched another Falcon 9 rocket at 10:19 a.m. EDT (7:19 a.m. PDT; 2:19 p.m. GMT) on Saturday with the German military’s SARah 1 reconnaissance radar satellite. The Falcon booster used on SARah 1 went back to Vandenberg to land.

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

The launches marked the 158th, 159th and 160th flights of the Falcon 9 rocket as a whole and the 24th, 25th and 26th Falcon 9 missions this year, trying the 26th launches achieved by SpaceX throughout 2020. SpaceX is included in the pace to exceed the limit of 31 launches – its total number from last year – until the end of July.

The company’s employees are aiming for more than 50 launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy in 2022.

Some aspects of Sunday’s launch prompted observers to raise questions about other spacecraft that may have been co-located with the Globalstar satellite.

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

But the relatively light weight of the Globalstar satellite usually leaves enough fuel reserve for the Falcon 9’s accelerator to return to landing. Instead, Sunday’s mission included landing on the offshore recovery platform SpaceX.

The live broadcast from Sunday’s launch, provided by SpaceX, did not show any views on the Globalstar satellite’s on-camera camera until an hour after the mission, an unusual practice for SpaceX’s commercial launches. As the on-board live camera views began to be broadcast live, the Globalstar satellite was visible, mounted to a structure on the upper stage, looking designed to take other payloads.

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

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

Launch on Sunday was Globalstar’s first companion since 2013 and adds capacity to the company’s retail network, providing voice and data connectivity for satellite phones, asset tracking and Internet of Things applications.

Globalstar operates a fleet of dozens of low-Earth orbit communications satellites. The company did not respond to numerous requests for details about the upcoming launch.

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 made by Thales Alenia Space to four Union rocket missions from 2010 to 2013. г.

Globalstar satellites provide a data connection for customers between 70 degrees north and south latitude, and the company’s second-generation spacecraft are designed for a lifespan of 15 years. Created by Thales, the Globalstar satellites are trapezoidal in shape and feature 16 C-band and S-band transponders and 16 L-band and C-band receivers.

SpaceX patch for the Globalstar FM15 mission. Credit: SpaceX

Globalstar competes in the market for satellite phones and data relays with companies such as Iridium, Inmarsat and Orbcomm. Globalstar announced in February that it was buying 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 service provider for launching the new satellites has not been announced.

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

Globalstar has not revealed the organization that funds the new satellites, but the operator said last month that it had signed a contract with a “large, global customer” to begin deploying S-band services in the so-called “Band 53” band in the United States. states and other countries.

The unnamed client has also paid most of the costs associated with the launch of the Globalstar FM15 satellite, Globalstar said in its financial documents to 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 25. And the Falcon 9 rocket is preparing to be launched on June 28 from Cape Canaveral’s 40 with the SES 22 satellite.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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