Starlink 16 | Falcon 9 Block 5

Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)
January 20, 2021 – 13:02 UTC | 08:02 EST
Mission Name
Starlink V1.0 L16: the 17th Starlink mission
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
SpaceX
Customer
(Who’s paying for this?)
SpaceX
Rocket
Falcon 9 Block 5 B1051-8; 38 day turn around
Launch Location
Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA
Payload mass
15,600 kg (~34,000 lbs) (60 x 260 kg, plus dispenser)
Where are the satellites going?
550 km circular Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) (Initially 366 x 213 km)
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Yes
Where will the first stage land?
633 km downrange on Just Read the Instructions

Tug: Hawk; Support: GO Quest
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief are stationed ~700 km downrange for fairing recovery
Are these fairings new?
No, one fairing flew on Starlink V1.0 L3 and L10, and the other one flew on Starlink V1.0 L9; 155 and 167 days turn around, respectively
How’s the weather looking?
The weather is currently 90% go for launch (As of January 19, 2021 15:30 UTC)
This will be the:
Fastest turn around time of a booster ever at 38 days (Previous Record: 51 days)
1st 8th flight of a booster
7th Falcon 9 launch without a static fire (despite being the fleet-leader)
– 105th Falcon 9 launch
– 51st re-flight of a booster
– 2nd re-flight of a booster in 2021
– 72nd booster landing
– 22nd consecutive landing (New record for SpaceX)

18th landing attempt on JRTI
17th and 18th re-flight of a fairing half
– 2nd launch for SpaceX in 2021
– 1st SpaceX launch on January 20
– 30th SpaceX launch from LC-39A

1,013th Starlink satellite launched
5th orbital launch attempt of 2021
Where to watch
Official livestream

Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, will be streaming at T-30 minutes; come ask questions and join the conversation live!

What’s this all mean?

SpaceX’s Starlink V1.0 L16, also known as Starlink 17, mission will launch 60 Starlink satellites atop its Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon 9 will lift off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), at Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. Starlink 16 will mark the 16th operational Starlink mission, boosting the total number of Starlink satellites launched to 1,013.

Starlink is SpaceX’s internet communication satellite constellation. The Low-Earth orbit constellation will deliver fast, low-latency internet service to locations where ground-based internet is unreliable, unavailable, or expensive. 

Starlink is currently in limited public beta, but a wider release beta is expected to start in under 3 months. As of now, only higher latitudes are covered (between 44 and 52 degrees according to one source). However, SpaceX only needs 24 launches for global coverage. Given SpaceX’s current Starlink production and launch rate, Starlink will have global coverage by the middle of 2021.

Once Starlink is complete, the venture is expected to profit $30-50 billion annually. This profit will largely finance SpaceX’s ambitious Starship program, as well as Mars Base Alpha.

Starlink Satellites
60 Starlink Satellites housed in the fairing for launch. (Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX)

Each Starlink V1.0 satellite has a compact design and a mass of 260 kg. SpaceX developed a flat-panel design, allowing them to fit as many satellites as possible into the Falcon 9’s 5.2 meter wide payload fairing. Due to this flat design, SpaceX is able to fit up to 60 Starlink satellites and the payload dispenser into the second stage, while still being able to recover the first stage. This is near the recoverable Falcon 9’s payload capacity to LEO, at around 17 tonnes. 

For how small each Starlink satellite is, each one is packed with high-tech communication and cost-saving technology. Each Starlink satellite is equipped with 4 phased array antennas, for high bandwidth and low-latency communication, and two parabolic antennas. The satellites also include a star tracker, which provides the satellite with attitude data, ensuring precision in broadband communication. 

The Starlink satellites are also equipped with an autonomous collision avoidance system, which utilizes the DOD’s debris tracking database to autonomously avoid collisions with other spacecraft and space junk. 

To decrease costs, each satellite only has a single solar panel, which simplifies the manufacturing process. To further cut costs, Starlink’s propulsion system, an ion thruster, uses Krypton as fuel, instead of Xenon. While the specific impulse (ISP) of Krypton is significantly lower than Xenon’s, it is far cheaper, which further decreases the satellite’s manufacturing cost.

Ion Power

Each Starlink satellite is equipped with the first Hall-effect Krypton powered ion thruster. This thruster is used both for ensuring the correct orbital position, but is also used for orbit raising and orbit lowering. At the end of the satellite’s life, this thruster is used to deorbit the satellite.

A satellite constellation is a group of satellites that work in conjunction for a common purpose. Currently, SpaceX plans to form a network of roughly 12,000 satellites; however, in 2019 SpaceX filed an application with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for permission to launch and operate an additional 30,000 satellites. These additional satellites would be placed in orbits ranging from 328 km to 580 km, which would further decrease latency, and increase the bandwidth. To put this number of satellites into perspective, this is roughly 20 times more satellites than were launched before 2019. 

Of the initial 12,000 satellites, 4,400 would operate on the Ku and Ka bands, with the other 7,600 operating on the V-Band. 

To achieve initial coverage, SpaceX will use 72 orbital planes, in a 53 degree 550 km circular orbit. The Starlink satellites will then communicate with other Starlink satellites and ground stations, to form a mesh network. 

Due to the vast number of Starlink satellites, many astronomers are concerned about their effect on the night sky. However, SpaceX is working with the astronomy community and implementing changes to the satellites to make them harder to see from the ground and less obtrusive to the night sky. SpaceX has changed how the satellites raise their orbits and, starting on Starlink V1.0 L9, added a sunshade to reduce light reflectivity. These changes have already significantly decreased the effect of Starlink on the night sky.

What is Falcon 9 Block 5?

The Falcon 9 Block 5 is SpaceX’s partially reusable two-stage medium-lift launch vehicle. Block 5 is the final iteration of the Falcon 9; the goal is to apply all the lessons learned from 56 previous Falcon 9 pre-Block 5 flights into a human-rated reusable rocket. The Falcon 9 contains 3 main components: a reusable first stage, an expendable second stage, and a reusable fairing.

Falcon 9
Falcon 9 Block 5 launching on the GPS Block III SV03 mission (Credit: SpaceX)

Block 5 updates:

SpaceX introduced a lot of changes on Block 5, allowing it to become the crew-launching reusable rocket that we know today. To start, the Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessels (COPVs) had to undergo a complete redesign. NASA mandated the COPV redesign, as it had been the cause of both of the Falcon 9 failures: AMOS-6 and CRS-7.

Alongside with certification for human spaceflight, Block 5 came with a number of other major changes. To increase the amount of flight each booster could handle, and decrease the turnaround time, SpaceX reinforced the landing legs, upgraded the grid fins, and added a carbon fiber interstage. They also added heat-resistant external paint and upgraded the engines. For more information about the changes in Block 5, and the other Blocks of the Falcon 9, check out this video by the Everyday Astronaut:

Tim Dodd explains the differences between the Falcon 9 versions. (Click image to watch) (Credit: Andrew Taylor)

Falcon 9 Booster B1051

The booster supporting this mission is B1051. This booster is the current fleet leader with 7 previous flights. Its maiden flight was launching the first Crew Dragon for their uncrewed Demo-1 mission on March 2, 2019. The booster’s second flight was launching the RADARSAT constellation from Vandenburg, on June 12, 2019. B1051 then launched the Starlink V1.0 L3, L6, L9, and L13. The booster’s seventh flight was on the SXM-7 mission, which launched on December 13, 2020. This will mark the shortest turnaround time of a booster to date at just under 40 days. This is a significant decrease from the current turn around time record, which is 51 days. Starlink V1.0 L16 will change the booster’s designation to B1051-8.

Following stage separation, the Falcon 9 will conduct 2 burns. These burns will softly touch down the booster on Just Read the Instructions

Falcon 9 landing on Of Course I Still Love You after launching Bob and Doug (Credit: SpaceX)

Fairing Reuse

SpaceX is the first entity ever that recovers and reflies its fairings. The recovery vessels, Go Ms. Tree and Go Ms. Chief, will most likely attempt to recover the fairing halves. After being jettisoned, the two fairing halves will use cold gas thrusters to orientate themselves as they descend through the atmosphere. Once at a lower altitude, they will deploy parafoils to help them glide down to a soft landing for recovery. 

Hr/Min/Sec              Event

– 00:38:00                 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load.
– 00:35:00                 RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway.
– 00:35:00                 1st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway
– 00:16:00                 2nd stage LOX loading underway
– 00:07:00                 Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
– 00:01:00                 Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks
– 00:01:00                 Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins
– 00:00:45                 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
– 00:00:03                 Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
– 00:00:00                 Falcon 9 Liftoff

Launch, Landing, and Satellite Deployment*

Hr/Min/Sec              Event

00:01:12                   Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
00:02:32                   1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:02:36                   1st and 2nd stages separate
00:02:44                   2nd stage engine starts (SES-1)
00:03:10                   Fairing deployment
00:06:40                   1st stage entry burn complete
00:08:26                   1st stage landing
00:08:46                   2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
00:45:35                   2nd stage engine starts (SES-2)
00:45:36                   2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
01:04:32                   Starlink 16 payload deploy

* All times are approximate

3 comments
  1. Do you you know if they are the same 9 engines used for the eighth fly than those of the first one ?

  2. Do we know if there is a plan for VR on mars, using a VR treadmill, Fibonacci bowls, or a holodeck? I’d think it would be good for exercise, training, and gaming?

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