SpaceX completed its 40th Falcon 9 launch in 2022, delivering a new batch of Starlink satellites and a Boeing demonstration satellite to orbit.
On schedule, the Falcon 9 lifted off from pad LC-40 on SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral Space Station (CCSFS) at 10:09 p.m. EDT on Sunday, September 4. The rocket’s repurposed thruster and fairing and new upper stage performed as designed, continuing Falcon 9’s unprecedented streak of 149 successful launches. Flying for the seventh time overall, the former Falcon Heavy B1052 booster performed flawlessly after a rapid 31-day rotation and landed on the deck of the SpaceX Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) drone several hundred miles away less than nine minutes after liftoff.
Flying for the fourth and fifth time, the Falcon 9 fairing halves from Starlink Mission 4-20 also performed as expected during ascent. SpaceX doesn’t discuss recovering the fairing, but the two halves likely deployed parafoils after re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and gently splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. Doug, SpaceX’s support ship, will eventually fish them out of the water for reuse.
Not just a Starlink mission, Starlink 4-20 was SpaceX’s sixth Starlink rideshare. Atop the stack of 51 Starlink V1.5 satellites was an experimental spacecraft built by Spaceflight Inc. Known as Sherpa-LTC2, Spaceflight and partner Astro Digital transformed the orbital transfer vehicle (space tug) into a satellite for the Boeing customer. The goal: to transport and test a prototype communication payload built by Astro Digital and designed to test new V-band communication technologies for a planned constellation of Boeing satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved Boeing’s plans for a constellation of 147 V-band satellites in November 2021. It’s unclear what the purpose of the constellation would be or whether Boeing already has customers or customers. aligned partners. The prototype spacecraft built by Spaceflight and Astro Digital — known as Varuna in recent FCC filings — will be crucial in determining the future of the constellation. Boeing wants to use a band of spectrum known as V-band which has a higher frequency than the Ku and Ka bands commonly used by most other communications satellites. A higher frequency can mean higher connection speeds and more available bandwidth, but V-band radio waves tend to have trouble passing through rain and other adverse weather conditions.
Varuna should help Boeing fully determine whether this interference is a hindrance or something that can be managed. Boeing applied for an FCC license for its V-band constellation in 2017. It’s unclear whether a lack of interest from Boeing or issues with the application caused the process to take as long as it did. did it.
Varuna was successfully deployed from Falcon 9 just under 50 minutes later into a mostly circular orbit 316 kilometers (196 mi) above the Earth’s surface. Equipped with a propulsion system designed by startup Benchmark Space, Sherpa-LTC2 is expected to eventually lift itself into an operational orbit of approximately 1,050 kilometers (~650 mi), where the V-band payload can be tested at the same altitude as Boeing’s planned constellation. .
20 minutes after Varuna’s deployment, the Falcon 9 upper stage – rotating from end to end – released all 51 Starlink satellites at once, completing the payload portion of the mission. As always, the upper stage will likely perform a de-orbit burn a few hours after liftoff and should re-enter Earth’s atmosphere shortly thereafter, ensuring that the only space junk produced by the mission is the Varuna deployment mechanism and a set of four benign Starlinks. ties’ which should be back in about two months.
Starlink 4-20 was SpaceX’s 40th launch in 2022 and the 50th launch in 12 months. According to Next Spaceflight, the company is planning at least two more Starlink launches in the next eight days. Starlink 4-2, another rideshare mission, is slated for September 10 at the earliest, while Starlink 4-34 could launch on September 12.
SpaceX sends Starlink satellites and a Boeing demonstrator into orbit on the 40th launch of 2022