Update for Jan. 24: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched dozens of satellites into orbit today. Read our full story here.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is preparing one of its veteran rockets to launch 143 satellites into space on Saturday (Jan. 23). You can watch the fiery action live online.
A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket flight is scheduled to take off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station here in Florida. Liftoff is expected during a one-hour window that opens at 9:40 a.m. EST (1440 GMT).
Perched atop the 230-foot-tall (70 meters) launcher will be dozens of satellites as part of a dedicated rideshare mission. This cosmic carpool, known as Transporter-1, will also be ferrying 10 of the company’s own Starlink satellites into space and depositing them in a polar orbit — a first for the growing network of broadband satellites. Other payloads include 48 Earth-observing SuperDove satellites for Planet and one small nanosatellite called “Charlie” for Aurora Insight.
Saturday’s launch marks the third mission of 2021 for SpaceX and the second in just two days from Florida’s Space Coast. The California-based rocket manufacturer launched a different Falcon 9 on a record-breaking flight on Wednesday (Jan. 20) to deliver a full stack of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit.
The booster used on that mission became the first in SpaceX’s fleet of frequent fliers to launch and land eight times. (The previous record was seven, which was held by two different first-stage boosters.)
Following liftoff on Saturday, the Transporter-1 Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage is expected to land on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You,” which is waiting out in the Atlantic. If successful, it will mark the 73rd recovery of a first-stage booster for SpaceX.
It will also mark the first catch of the year for the veteran drone ship, which has sat out the past two missions while being refurbished.
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The Falcon 9 rocket for the Transporter-1 launch is a four-time flier and a record-setter as well. Known as B1058, this flight proven booster will embark on its fifth flight and, if all goes according to plan, will be able to stick its landing at sea.
B1058 made history in May when it launched two NASA astronauts — Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — to the International Space Station on the first crewed flight to launch from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Emblazoned with NASA’s iconic worm logo, the booster also ferried a communications satellite for South Korea’s military, a batch of Starlink satellites and a Dragon cargo capsule to the ISS for SpaceX’s 21st cargo resupply mission.
For its next mission, the veteran will serve as a kind of space Uber, delivering a group of small satellites into orbit as part of SpaceX’s rideshare program, which aims to help smaller satellites get into space by sharing a ride much like an Uber pool.
SpaceX announced the program in August 2020, offering rides on a Falcon for $1 million a pop. The launch slots are booked through the company’s website and are offered on regular intervals approximately four times per year.
Rideshares missions are not exactly new for SpaceX as the company launched more than 60 satellites from its California launch pad in December 2018. That mission, dubbed SSO-A, delivered a small armada of satellites into low-Earth orbit through a carefully choreographed orbital ballet so that the satellites did not collide with one another.
SpaceX’s two net-equipped boats — called GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief — will be part of the recovery team deployed for this mission. They will attempt to recover the two pieces of the rocket’s nose cone, known as the payload fairing, after they fall back to Earth.
The dynamic duo supported the Starlink mission earlier this week and are currently en route to the Transporter-1 mission’s designated landing zone. (Each fairing half is equipped with parachutes and on board navigation software that steers it to a specific landing zone out in the Atlantic Ocean.)
For the Starlink mission, the boats scooped the pieces out of the water and will likely do the same thing for this mission. That determination will be made officially on launch day.
Currently, weather forecasts predict an 60% chance of good conditions for the launch opportunity on Saturday, with the only weather concerns being the potential for thick clouds over the launch site.
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