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Musk loses another Starship; Starlink rescheduled

February 3, 2021

By Chris Forrester

SpaceX did not have the best of experimental launches on February 2nd when one of its prototype Starship giant rockets again exploded on landing. It had a perfect launch and a superb in-orbit manoeuvre as preparation for landing on its exact take-off spot. It reached some 6 miles in height, but the landing resulted in a fiery explosion.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it will investigate the crash landing. “The FAA’s top priority in regulating commercial space transportation is ensuring that operations are safe, even if there is an anomaly,” an FAA agency spokesperson said in a statement. “The FAA will oversee the investigation of today’s landing mishap involving the SpaceX Starship SN9 prototype in Boca Chica, Texas. Although this was an uncrewed test flight, the investigation will identify the root cause of today’s mishap and possible opportunities to further enhance safety as the program develops.”

Meanwhile, at the Texas launch site SpaceX’s SN10 rocket is standing just a few yards away from the crash site and ready for its own launch – once the FAA gives approval.

SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said on the company’s livestream of the that: “We’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit.”

Meanwhile in Florida SpaceX had hoped for a launch of 60 Starlink broadband satellites on January 31st. That was scrubbed because of weather anxieties. The launch was then rescheduled for February 1st, but that was also amended. A third scheduled launch for February 2nd was also cancelled because of bad weather.

A new flight time has been set with a launch window opening at 01.19am (Florida-time) on February 4th for what will be the 18th mission for SpaceX’s Starlink mega-constellation. As always, the launch will be subject to the normal anxieties over weather not only at the Cape but a few hundred miles down range in the Atlantic where the landing barge (‘Just Read The Instructions’) will be positioned.

SpaceX continues to break records. For example, this will be the 116th mission for SpaceX and the 108th for its hugely successful Falcon 9 rockets.

But SpaceX is also still going for another launch, its 19th Starlink mission, perhaps also on Thursday when another batch of 60 satellites are planned for launch, from the Kennedy Space Centre. If the team can achieve this 2/3 day turnaround then this would be a clear example of an extremely speedy and efficient technical achievement for the SpaceX concept.

That concept, with these two launches, has meant more than 1100 Starlinks placed into orbit. And the small 260 kgs satellites while compact are cleverly designed. For example, each carries a Star Tracker to keep each craft on its correct attitude. They’ve also onboard Ion propulsion units to raise, manoeuvre and finally deorbit themselves at the end of their lives. They are also equipped with collision avoidance technology to avoid space debris – and other satellites.

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