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SpaceX Booster to Launch for Record Fifteenth Time on Starlink Mission – Space Flight Now

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Starlink 4-37 mission will launch the next batch of 54 Starlink broadband satellites from SpaceX. follow us Twitter.

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SpaceX plans to launch 54 more Starlink Internet satellites on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, using a Falcon 9 booster making its 15th flight into space, a record for the company’s fleet of reusable rockets.

Liftoff of the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 is scheduled for 4:32 pm EST (21:32 GMT) Saturday from Launch Complex 39A. SpaceX will make its third Falcon 9 launch in less than 34 hours, following Friday’s missions from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, just a few miles from Pad 39A, and Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Those flights deployed the US-French SWOT satellite, designed to study Earth’s surface water resources, and two commercial broadband satellites for SES’s O3b mPOWER constellation.

SpaceX delayed the launch of Starlink, designated Starlink 4-37, from Friday to focus on the O3b mPOWER mission for SES, one of SpaceX’s oldest customers.

There is a 60% chance of favorable weather for Saturday’s launch, with scattered showers and broken cloud cover forecast over Florida’s space coast, according to the US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron. SpaceX has a chance backup launch available at 4:52 pm, 20 minutes after the first launch time.

Falcon 9 will arc northeast of Florida’s Space Coast, aiming for a low-Earth orbit inclined 53.2 degrees from the equator. The upper stage of the rocket will release the 54 compact Starlink satellites approximately 15 minutes after the mission.

The satellites aboard Falcon 9 will add to SpaceX’s consumer-grade, high-speed, low-latency Internet network. Currently, subscribers can connect to the Starlink network in more than 40 countries and territories.

The first stage booster for the Starlink 4-37 mission will set a record for SpaceX’s reusable rockets. The booster stage, tail number B1058, debuted on May 30, 2020 with the historic launch of NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on SpaceX’s first human spaceflight mission.

It has flown 14 times so far, helping to launch 723 satellites into orbit. That count will rise to 777 spacecraft with the launch of 54 more Starlink internet satellites on Saturday.

Missions flown by B1058 have included the launch of a South Korean military communications satellite, a space station cargo mission, two Transporter small-satellite carpool missions, and nine flights using Starlink satellites.

A Falcon 9 rocket sits at Launch Complex 39A on December 16, ready for launch with 54 more Starlink Internet satellites. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Saturday’s launch will be SpaceX’s first Starlink mission since October 27. Since then, SpaceX has launched nine consecutive missions for US government and commercial clients.

After Saturday’s mission, SpaceX will have launched 3,612 Starlink satellites, including prototypes and failed spacecraft, into orbit. The company currently has more than 3,200 Starlink satellites in operation in space, with around 3,000 operational and nearly 200 moving in their operational orbits. according to a tabulation by Jonathan McDowellan expert tracker of spaceflight activity and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The 53 new Starlink satellites will launch in one of five orbital “shells” in SpaceX’s Internet constellation.

SpaceX Shell 4 with Saturday’s mission. The network architecture includes satellites that fly a few hundred miles up, orbiting at inclinations of 97.6 degrees, 70 degrees, 53.2 degrees, and 53.0 degrees with respect to the equator. The spacecraft transmits broadband Internet signals to consumers around the world, connectivity that is now available on all seven continents with ongoing testing at a research station in Antarctica.

SpaceX is more than halfway there with the deployment of the initial fleet of 4,400 Starlink Internet satellites. The company has approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually launch and operate up to 12,000 Starlink spacecraft, and SpaceX has signaled that it could aim to fly up to 42,000 Starlink satellites into orbit.

SpaceX is developing a much larger, improved Starlink satellite design for launch on the company’s massive next-generation Starship rocket. But Starship has yet to attempt a launch to low-Earth orbit, and delays in developing and testing the new rocket will likely force SpaceX to start launching a smaller version of the newly designed Starlink satellite on Falcon 9 rockets.

The Starlink network was envisioned as a venture to help raise revenue to finance SpaceX’s ambition to build a base on Mars. The Starship rocket itself, designed to be completely reusable with relatively low operating costs, is central to Elon Musk’s dream of Mars.

Saturday’s launch will be SpaceX’s 59th launch so far in 2022. Two more Falcon 9 rockets are scheduled to fly before the end of the year, one from Florida and one from California.

The higher launch rate has been helped by shorter response times between missions at launch pads in Florida and California, and SpaceX’s reuse of Falcon 9 boosters and payload fairings. Launches carrying satellites for SpaceX’s own Starlink internet network, like Saturday’s mission, have accounted for more than half of the company’s Falcon 9 flights so far this year.

Credit: Spaceflight Now

Parked inside a launch control center just south of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for Saturday’s countdown, the SpaceX launch team will begin loading super-cooled densified kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the vehicle. Falcon 9 at T-minus 35 minutes.

Pressurized helium will also flow into the rocket in the last half hour of the countdown. In the last seven minutes before takeoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines will be thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “relaxing.” The Falcon 9’s range and guidance safety systems will also be configured for launch.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket will direct its 1.7 million pounds of thrust, produced by nine Merlin engines, to head northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket will exceed the speed of sound in about a minute and then shut down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after liftoff. The booster stage will detach from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fire pulses from the cold gas control thrusters and extend titanium mesh fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two braking starts will slow the rocket down to land on the “Just Read the Instructions” drone around 400 miles (650 kilometers) about nine minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing will be discarded during the second stage burn. A recovery ship is also on station in the Atlantic to recover the two nose cone halves after they parachute down.

The first-stage landing on Saturday’s mission will occur moments after the Falcon 9’s second-stage engine shuts down to launch the Starlink satellites into orbit. The separation of the 54 Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket was confirmed at T+plus 15 minutes, 22 seconds.

The retainer bars will release from the Starlink payload stack, allowing the flat satellites to fly freely from the upper stage of the orbiting Falcon 9. The 54 spacecraft will deploy solar arrays and run automated activation steps, then use krypton-powered ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.

The Falcon 9 guidance computer aims to deploy the satellites in an elliptical orbit with an inclination of 53.2 degrees relative to the equator. The satellites will use the onboard propulsion to do the rest of the work and reach a circular orbit 540 kilometers (335 miles) above Earth.

After reaching their operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin transmitting broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network with a ground terminal provided by SpaceX.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1058.15)

USEFUL LOAD: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 4-37)

LAUNCH SITE: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

RELEASE DATE: December 17, 2022

LUNCH TIME: 16:32:30 EST (21:32:30 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: 60% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of high winds; Low-moderate risk of unfavorable conditions for reinforcement recovery

BOOSTER RECOVERY: “Just Read the Directions” Drone Boat East of Charleston, South Carolina


TARGET ORBIT: 144 miles by 208 miles (232 kilometers by 335 kilometers), 53.2 degrees of incline


  • T+00:00: Takeoff
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:27: First stage main engine shutdown (MECO)
  • T+02:31: Separation of stages
  • T+02:38: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:42: Fairing removal
  • T+06:47: Ignition by first stage input burnout (three engines)
  • T+07:06: First stage input burn cutout
  • T+08:28: First stage landing burnout ignition (one engine)
  • T+08:41: Second stage engine shutdown (DRY 1)
  • T+08:49: First stage landing
  • T+15:22: Separation of Starlink satellites


  • Launch number 192 of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 201st launch of the Falcon family of rockets since 2006
  • 15th launch of the Falcon 9 B1058 booster
  • Falcon 9 launch number 164 from Florida’s Space Coast
  • SpaceX’s 59th launch from Pad 39A
  • 153rd launch overall from Pad 39A
  • Flight 131 of a repurposed Falcon 9 booster
  • Falcon 9 66th launch dedicated primarily to the Starlink network
  • Falcon 9 58th launch of 2022
  • SpaceX’s 59th launch in 2022
  • 56th orbital launch attempt based at Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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