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SpaceX aims for quadruple success

February 5, 2021

By Chris Forrester

Elon Musk will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief at the end of this weekend when, if all goes to plan, his second Falcon 9 rocket orbits the second batch of 60 Starlink satellites.

The first consignment was another flawless flight, landing in the early hours of February 4th (01.19 Florida time) after lifting off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. Some 9 minutes later the rocket’s first stage returned safely to the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ floating barge.

This flight in the SpaceX manifest was Number 18 and, somewhat confusingly, will be followed by Flight 17 on February 7th. Musk’s team had hoped to launch Number 17 on February 5th, but decided on extra checks on the rocket.

These two launches just days apart, and with a total 120 Starlink satellites deployed in the process, is an impressive feat. With each launch Musk’s rocketeers now manage routine touchdowns on their target ocean barges.

As time of writing the launch is scheduled for 04.31 (Florida time) on February 7th and, as always, is subject the usual weather risks and technical delays.

The Starlinks will use their on-board Krypton thrusters to achieve their target orbits, and be added to the overall manifest of the other near-1000 satellites in position around the planet.

Flight 18’s first stage last flew just 27 days ago and was the fifth flight for the highly reusable rocket. Flight 17’s first stage will be the eighth time it has been used.

The speedy follow-on flight, Number 17, was achieved because SpaceX operates two separate launch pads in Florida and No. 17 was organised from a Launch Complex at nearby – and NASA’s – Kennedy Space Centre.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has told an Australian parliamentary committee that much of Australia will be covered by the Starlink fleet in “early 2021” and the Australian outlying islands by the end of 2022.

“Certain more proximate islands within the external territories, notably the Ashmore, Cartier, and Coral Sea Islands, could be served by early 2022, when SpaceX has more fully populated its satellite constellation with ongoing launches and with the establishment of gateway earth stations at proximate mainland locations,” the company said in a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories’ Availability.

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