SpaceX to use Falcon 9 vertically for Starlink and Rideshare mission

SpaceX raised Falcon 9 vertical to use for rideshare and Starlink mission named as Starlink Group 4 Launch 3 (4-3). Spaceflight announced that the weather conditions were good for a Starlink launch. Falcon 9 was expected to launch on SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral LC-40 launch pad. By Monday they were planning to finish the static fire test. However, now the plans changed.

Falcon 9 Rocket With Dragon Spacecraft Vertical at Launch Complex 39A | NASA
Image credits- NASA

By Wednesday SpaceX was yet to test the rocket with the static fire test. SpaceX has just more than a day time to test the rocket before the currently scheduled time. On December 2nd the launch is to take place. This launch with being Starlink 4-3, SpaceX’s second Group 4 launch. The company has been sending Starlink satellites to higher orbits for a long time earlier. Now has to deliver another 50-52 laser-linked Starlink V1.5 satellites to the lower orbit.

Usually, the payload will have 53 Starlink satellites, now SpaceX plans to swap out two or three Starlink satellites. It will be replaced for two rideshare payloads of Earth Observation company Blacksky.

Starlink 4-3 will be SpaceX’s fifth Starlink rideshare mission. Also, it will be second with Earth-imaging satellites from Blacksky. The first is Starlink V1 L9’s successful August 2020 launch. Each Blacksky’s satellite weighs around 60 kg.  Blacksky’s small ‘Gen2’ satellites can capture images of Earth at resolutions of up to 0.9 meters per pixel. After a successful launch, the launch will increase the number of operational Blacksky satellites in orbit from 8 to 10. Another two launches are planned in the coming two months with 14 satellites in total.

Setting new record

Though CEO Elon Musk originally hoped for 40-48 launches this year, it appears that SpaceX will still manage around 29-31 by the end of December. For SpaceX, Starlink 4-3 will set at least two major spaceflight records. First, if all goes well, it will be SpaceX’s 27th launch of 2021 – a new record for annual launch cadence.

However, if SpaceX managed to excise the apparent Starlink production gremlins that partly caused its launch cadence to plummet from 20 missions in the first half of 2021 to ~10 in the second half, 2022 could potentially meet Musk’s 2021 expectations. Like past Starlink rideshares, SpaceX will likely launch Falcon 9 to a slightly higher orbit than usual – tailored to each customer’s needs. For SXRS-2, Spaceflight says Falcon 9 will deploy all Starlink and rideshare payloads in a (likely circular) 430 km (270 mi) low Earth orbit. In comparison, Falcon 9 deployed Starlink 4-1 in an orbit roughly 340 by 220 km.

Earlier this year, many outlets already reported that SpaceX’s May 26th Starlink-28 launch was its 100th consecutive launch. While true in a very literal sense, it ignores SpaceX’s infamous Amos-6 Falcon 9 failure, which occurred well before liftoff but still destroyed both the rocket and payload. Following NASA’s DART mission earlier this month, which was Falcon 9’s unequivocal 100th launch success, Starlink 4-3 will be Falcon 9’s 101st orbital launch since Amos-6.

(Launches information from- Teslarati)